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Henry James 

813 J2 8 

$1.45 63-07590 
*** of the novel 



The Art of the Novel 


Henry James 


B 7 
Richard P. Blackmur 




COPYRIGHT, 1907, 1908, 1909 BY HENRY JAMES; 
renewal copyright 1935, 1936, 1937. 

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS; renewal copyright 1937. 

All rights reserved. No part of this book 
may be reproduced in any form without 
tH Remission of Charles Scribner's Sons. 

C-4.6i [C] 

Printed in the United States of America 






THE Prefaces of Henry James were composed at the height of 
his age as a kind of epitaph or series of inscriptions for the 
major monument of his life, the sumptuous, plum-coloured, 
expensive New York Edition of his works. The labour was a 
torment, a care, and a delight, as his letters and the Prefaces 
themselves amply show. The thinking and the writing were 
hard and full and critical to the point of exasperation; the 
purpose was high, the reference wide, and the terms of dis- 
course had to be conceived and defined as successive need for 
them arose. He had to elucidate and to appropriate for the 
critical intellect the substance and principle of his career as an 
artist, and he had to do this such was the idiosyncrasy of his 
mind specifically, example following lucid example, and 
with a consistency of part with part that amounted almost to 
the consistency of a mathematical equation, so that, as in the 
Poetics, if his premises were accepted his conclusions must be 
taken as inevitable. 

Criticism has never been more ambitious, nor more useful. 
There has never been a body of work so eminently suited to 
criticism as the fiction of Henry James, and there has certainly 
never been an author who saw the need and had the ability to 
criticise specifically and at length his own work. He was avid 
of his opportunity and both proud and modest as to what he 
did with it. "These notes," he wrote in the Preface to Roderic\ 
Hudson, "represent, over a considerable course, the continuity 
of an artist's endeavour, the growth of his whole operative 
consciousness and, best of all, perhaps, their own tendency to 



multiply, with the implication, thereby, of a memory much 
enriched." Thus his strict modesty; he wrote to Grace Norton 
(5 March 1907) in a higher tone. "The prefaces, as I say, are 
difficult to do but I have found them of a jolly interest; and 
though I am not going to let you read one of the fictions 
themselves over I shall expect you to read all the said Intro- 
ductions." To W. D. Howells he wrote (17 August 1908) 
with very near his full pride. "They are, in general, a sort of 
plea for Criticism, for Discrimination, for Appreciation on 
other than infantile lines as against the so almost universal 
Anglo-Saxon absence of these things; which tends so, in our 
general trade, it seems to me, to break the heart. . . . They 
ought, collected together, none the less, to form a sort of com- 
prehensive manual or vademecum for aspirants in our arduous 
profession. Still, it will be long before I shall want to collect 
them together for that purpose and furnish them with a final 

In short, James felt that his Prefaces represented or demon- 
strated an artist's consciousness and the character of his work 
in some detail, made an essay in general criticism which had 
an interest and a being aside from any connection with his 
own work, and that finally, they added up to a fairly exhaus- 
tive reference book on the technical aspects of the art of fiction. 
His judgment was correct and all a commentator can do is to 
indicate by example and a little analysis, by a kind of pro- 
visional reasoned index, how the contents of his essay may be 
made more available. We have, that is, to perform an act of 
criticism in the sense that James himself understood it. "To 
criticise," he wrote in the Preface to What Maisie Knew, "is 
to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to 
establish in fine a relation with the criticised thing and make 
it one's own." 

What we have here to appropriate is the most sustained and 
I think the most eloquent and original piece of literary criti- 
cism in existence. (The only comparable pieces, not in merit 



of course but in kind, are by the same author, "The Art of 
Fiction," written as a young man and printed in Partial Por- 
traits, and "The Novel in The Ring and the Book/ " written 
in 1912 and published in Notes on Novelists; the first of 
which the reader should consult as an example of general criti- 
cism with a prevailing ironic tone, and the second as an ex- 
ample of what the same critical attitude as that responsible 
for the Prefaces could do on work not James 5 own.) Naturally, 
then, our own act of appropriation will have its difficulties, and 
we shall probably find as James found again and again, that 
the things most difficult to master will be the best. At the 
least we shall require the maximum of strained attention, and 
the faculty of retaining detail will be pushed to its limit. And 
these conditions will not apply from the difficulty of what 
James has to say which is indeed lucid but because of the 
convoluted compression of his style and because of the positive 
unf amiliarity of his terms as he uses them. No one else has 
written specifically on his subject. 

Before proceeding to exhibition and analysis, however, it 
may be useful to point out what kind of thing, as a type by 
itself, a James Preface is, and what kind of exercise the reader 
may expect a sample to go through. The key-fact is simple. A 
Preface is the story of a story, or in those volumes which col- 
lect a group of shorter tales the story of a group of stories 
cognate in theme or treatment. The Prefaces collocate, juxta- 
pose, and separate the different kinds of stories. They also, by 
cross-reference and development from one Preface to another, 
inform the whole series with a unity of being. By "the story 
of a story" James meant a narrative of the accessory facts and 
considerations which went with its writing; the how, the 
why, the what, when, and where which brought it to birth 
and which are not evident in the story itself, but which have 
a fascination and a meaning in themselves to enhance the 
reader's knowledge. "The private history of any sincere 
work," he felt, "looms large with its own completeness." 



But the "story of a story" is not simple in the telling; it has 
many aspects that must be examined in turn, many develop- 
ments that must be pursued, before its centre in life is revealed 
as captured. "The art of representation bristles with questions 
the very terms of which are difficult to apply and appreciate." 
Only the main features can be named simply. There is the 
feature of autobiography, as a rule held to a minimum : an ac- 
count of the Paris hotel, the Venetian palace, the English cot- 
tage, in which the tale in question was written. Aside from 
that, there is often a statement of the anecdote and the cir- 
cumstances in which it was told, from which James drew the 
germ of his story. There is the feature of the germ in incu- 
bation, and the story of how it took root and grew, invariably 
developing into something quite different from its immediate 
promise. Then there is an account frequently the most in- 
teresting feature of how the author built up his theme as a 
consistent piece of dramatisation. Usually there are two aspects 
to this feature, differently discussed in different Prefaces the 
aspect of the theme in relation to itself as a balanced and con- 
sistent whole, the flesh upon the articulated plot; and the as- 
pect of the theme in relation to society, which is the moral 
and evaluating aspect. Varying from Preface to Preface as the 
need commands, there is the further feature of technical expo- 
sition, in terms of which everything else is for the moment 
subsumed. That is, the things which a literary artist does in 
order to make of his material an organic whole the devices 
he consciously uses to achieve a rounded form are rendered 
available for discussion, and for understanding, by definition 
and exemplification. 

These are the principal separate features which compose the 
face of a Preface. There are also certain emphases brought to 
bear throughout the Prefaces, which give them above all the 
savour of definite character. Again and again, for example, a 
novel or story will raise the problem of securing a compo- 
sitional centre, a presiding intelligence, or of applying the 


method of indirect approach. Again and again James empha j 
sises the necessity of being amusing, dramatic, interesting. 
And besides these, almost any notation, technical, thematic, or 
moral, brings James eloquently back to the expressive relation 
between art and life, raises him to an intense personal plea for 
the difficulty and delight of maintaining that relation, or 
wrings from him a declaration of the supreme labour of intel- 
ligence that art lays upon the artist. For James it is the pride 
of achievement, for the reader who absorbs that pride it is the 
enthusiasm of understanding and the proud possibility of 

None of this, not the furthest eloquence nor the most de- 
tached precept, but flows from the specific observation and 
the particular example. When he speaks of abjuring the "plati- 
tude of statement," he is not making a phrase but summa- 
rising, for the particular occasion, the argument which runs 
throughout the Prefaces, that in art what is merely stated is 
not presented, what is not presented is not vivid, what is not 
vivid is not represented, and what is not represented is not 
art. Or when, referring to the method by which a subject 
most completely expresses itself, he writes the following sen- 
tence, James is not indulging in self-flattery. "The careful 
ascertainment of how it shall do so, and the art of guiding it 
with consequent authority since this sense of 'authority' is 
for the master-builder the treasure of treasures, or at least the 
joy of joys renews in the modern alchemist something like 
the old dream of the secret of life." It is not indulgence of any 
description; it is the recognition in moral language of the art- 
ist's privileged experience in the use of his tools in this in- 
stance his use of them in solving the technical problems of The 
Spoils of Poynton. James unfailingly, unflaggingly reveals for 
his most general precept its specific living source. He knew that 
only by constantly retaining the specific in the field of discus- 
sion could he ever establish or maintain the principles by which 
he wrote. That is his unique virtue as a critic, that the specific 



object is always in hand; as it was analogously his genius as 
a novelist that what he wrote about was always present in 
somebody's specific knowledge of it. In neither capacity did 
he ever succumb to the "platitude of statement." 

It is this factor of material felt and rendered specifically that 
differentiates James from such writers as Joyce and Proust. 
All three have exerted great technical influence on succeeding 
writers, as masters ought. The difference is that writers who 
follow Joyce or Proust tend to absorb their subjects, their 
social attitudes, and their personal styles and accomplish com- 
petent derivative work in so doing, while the followers of 
James absorb something of a technical mastery good for any 
subject, any attitude, any style. It is the difference between 
absorbing the object of a sensibility and acquiring something 
comparable to the sensibility itself. The point may perhaps be 
enforced paradoxically: the mere imitators of the subject-mat- 
ter of Proust are readable as documents, but the mere imita- 
tors of James are not readable at all. It is not that James is 
more or less great than his compeers the question is not be- 
fore us but that he consciously and articulately exhibited a 
greater technical mastery of the tools of his trade. It is a mat- 
ter of sacrifice. Proust made no sacrifice but wrote always as 
loosely as possible and triumphed in spite of himself. Joyce 
made only such sacrifices as suited his private need as read- 
ers of these Prefaces will amply observe and triumphed by a 
series of extraordinary tours de force. James made consistently 
every sacrifice for intelligibility and form; and, when the 
fashions of interest have made their full period, it will be seen 
I think that his triumph is none the less for that. 

There remains once more before proceeding with the 
actual content of the Prefaces a single observation that must 
be made, and it flows from the remarks above about the char- 
acter of James' influence. James had in his style and perhaps 
in the life which it reflected an idiosyncrasy so powerful, so 
overweening, that to many it seemed a stultifying vice, or at 



least an inexcusable heresy. He is difficult to read in his later 
works among which the Prefaces are included and his sub- 
jects, or rather the way in which he develops them, are oc- 
casionally difficult to coordinate with the reader's own experi- 
ence. He enjoyed an excess o intelligence and he suffered, 
both in life and art, from an excessive effort to communicate 
it, to represent it in all its fullness. His style grew elaborate in 
the degree that he rendered shades and refinements of mean- 
ing and feeling not usually rendered at all. Likewise the 
characters which he created to dramatise his feelings have 
sometimes a quality of intelligence which enables them to 
experience matters which are unknown and seem almost per- 
verse to the average reader. James recognised his difficulty, at 
least as to his characters. He defended his "super-subtle fry" 
in one way or another a dozen times, on the ground that if 
they did not exist they ought to, because they represented, if 
only by an imaginative irony, what life was capable of at its 
finest. His intention and all his labour was to represent 
dramatically intelligence at its most difficult, its most lucid, its 
most beautiful point. This is the sum of his idiosyncrasy; and 
the reader had better make sure he knows what it is before he 
rejects it. The act of rejection will deprive him of all knowl- 
edge of it. And this precept applies even more firmly to the 
criticisms he made of his work to the effort he made to re- 
appropriate it intellectually than to the direct apprehension 
of the work itself. 


Now to resume the theme of this essay, to "remount," as 
James says of himself many times, "the stream of composition." 
What is that but to make an ex post facto dissection, not 
that we may embalm the itemised mortal remains, but that 
we may intellectually understand the movement of parts and 
the relation between them in the living body we appreciate. 



Such dissection is imaginative, an act of the eye and mind 
alone, and but articulates our knowledge without once scratch- 
ing the flesh of its object. Only if the life itself was a mockery, 
a masquerade of pasted surfaces, will we come away with our 
knowledge dying; if the life was honest and our attention 
great enough, even if we do not find the heart itself at least 
we shall be deeply exhilarated, having heard its slightly irregu- 
lar beat. 

Let us first exhibit the principal objects which an imagi- 
native examination is able to separate, attaching to each a 
summary of context and definition. Thus we shall have 
equipped ourselves with a kind of eclectic index or provisional 
glossary, and so be better able to find our way about, and be 
better prepared to seize for closer examination a selection of 
those parts of some single Preface which reveal themselves as 
deeply animating. And none of this effort will have any 
object except to make the substance of all eighteen Prefaces 
more easily available. 

There is a natural division between major subjects which are 
discussed at length either in individual essays or from volume 
to volume, and minor notes which sometimes appear once 
and are done, and are sometimes recurrent, turning up again 
and again in slightly different form as the specific matter in 
hand requires. But it is not always easy to see under which 
heading an entry belongs. In the following scheme the dispo- 
sition is approximate and occasionally dual, and in any case 
an immediate subject of the reader's revision. 

To begin with, let us list those major themes which have no 
definite locus but inhabit all the Prefaces more or less with- 
out favour. This is the shortest and for the most part the most 
general of the divisions, and therefore the least easily suscep- 
tible of definition in summary form. 

The Relation of Art and the Artist. The Relation of Art 
and Life. Art, Life, and the Ideal Art and Morals. Art as 
Salvation for its Characters. These five connected subjects, 



one or more of them, are constantly arrived at, either paren- 
thetically or as the definite terminus of the most diverse dis- 
cussions. The sequence in which I have put them ought to 
indicate something of the attitude James brings to bear on 
them* Art was serious, he believed., and required of the artist 
every ounce of his care. The subject of art was life, or more 
particularly someone's apprehension of the experience of it> 
and in striving truly to represent it art removed the waste and 
muddlement and bewilderment in which it is lived and gave 
it a lucid, intelligible form. By insisting on intelligence and 
lucidity something like an ideal vision was secured; not an 
ideal in the air but an ideal in the informed imagination, an 
ideal, in fact, actually of life, limited only by the depth of the 
artist's sensibility of it. Thus art was the viable representation 
of moral value; in the degree that the report was intelligent 
and intense the morals were sound. This attitude naturally 
led him on either of two courses in his choice of central char- 
acters. He chose either someone with a spark of intelligence 
in him to make him worth saving from the damnation and 
waste of a disorderly life, or he chose to tell the story of some 
specially eminent person in whom the saving grace of full in- 
telligence is assumed and exhibited. It is with the misfortunes 
and triumphs of such persons, in terms of the different kinds 
of experience of which he was master, that James' fiction al- 
most exclusively deals. 

It is this fact of an anterior interest that largely determines 
what he has to say about The Finding of Subjects and The 
Growth of Subjects. Subjects never came ready-made or com- 
plete, but always from hints, notes, the merest suggestion. 
Often a single fact reported at the dinner-table was enough 
for James to seize on and plant in the warm bed of his imagi- 
nation. If his interlocutor, knowing him to be a novelist, in- 
sisted on continuing, James closed his ears. He never wanted 
all the facts, which might stupefy him, but only enough to 
go on with 3 hardly enough to seem a fact at all. If out of 



politeness lie had to listen, he paid no recording attention; 
what he then heard was only "clumsy Life at her stupid work" 
of waste and muddlement. Taking his single precious germ 
he meditated upon it, let it develop, scrutinised and encour- 
aged, compressed and pared the developments until he had 
found the method by which he could dramatise it, give it a 
central intelligence whose fortune would be his theme, and 
shape it in a novel or a story as a consistent and self -sufficient 
organism. James either gives or regrets that he cannot give 
both the original donnee and an account of how it grew to be 
a dramatic subject for almost every item in the New York 

Art and Difficulty. Of a course, a man with such a view of 
his art and choosing so great a personal responsibility for his 
theme would push his rendering to the most difficult terms 
possible. So alone would he be able to represent the maxi- 
mum value of his theme, Being a craftsman and delighting in 
his craft, he knew also both the sheer moral delight of solving 
a technical difficulty or securing a complicated effect, and the 
simple, amply attested fact that the difficulties of submitting 
one's material to a rigidly conceived form were often the only 
method of representing the material in the strength of its own 
light. The experience of these difficulties being constantly 
present to James as he went about his work, he constantly 
points specific instances for the readers of his Prefaces. 

Looseness. Looseness of any description, whether of con- 
ception or of execution, he hated contemptuously. In both re- 
spects he found English fiction "a paradise of loose ends," but 
more especially in the respect of execution. His own themes, 
being complex in reference and development, could only reach 
the lucidity of the apprehensible, the intelligibility of the rep- 
resented state, if they were closed in a tight form. Any loose- 
ness or laziness would defeat his purpose and let half his in- 
tention escape. A selection of the kinds of looseness against 
which he complains will be given among the minor notes. 



The Plea for Attention and Appreciation. The one faculty 
James felt that the artist may require of his audience is that of 
close attention or deliberate appreciation; for it is by this 
faculty alone that the audience participates in the work of art. 
As he missed the signs of it so he bewailed the loss; upon its 
continuous exertion depended the very existence of what he 
wrote. One burden of the Prefaces was to prove how much 
the reader would see if only he paid attention and how much 
he missed by following the usual stupid routine of skipping 
and halting and letting slide. Without attention, without in- 
tense appreciation an art of the intelligent life was impossible 
and without intelligence, for James, art was nothing. 

The Necessity for Amusement. James was willing to do 
his part to arouse attention, and he laboured a good deal to 
find out exactly what that part was. One aspect of it was to be 
as amusing as possible, and this he insisted on at every oppor- 
tunity. To be amusing, to be interesting; without that nothing 
of his subject could possibly transpire in the reader 's mind. In 
some of his books half the use of certain characters was to 
amuse the reader. Henrietta Stackpole, for example, in The 
Portrait of a Lady, serves mainly to capture the reader's atten- 
tion by amusing him as a "character." Thus what might 
otherwise have been an example of wasteful overtreatment 
actually serves the prime purpose of carrying the reader along, 
distracting and freshening him from time to time. 

The Indirect Approach and The Dramatic Scene. These 
devices James used throughout his work as those most cal- 
culated to command, direct, and limit or frame the reader's 
attention; and they are employed in various combinations or 
admixtures the nature of which almost every Preface com- 
ments on. These devices are not, as their names might suggest, 
opposed; nor could their use in equal parts cancel each other. 
They are, in the novel, two ends of one stick, and no one can 
say where either end begins. The characterising aspect of the 
Indirect Approach is this: the existence of a definite created 



sensibility interposed between the reader and the felt experi- 
ence which is the subject of the fiction. James never put his 
reader in direct contact with his subjects; he believed it was 
impossible to do so, because his subject really was not what 
happened but what someone felt about what happened, and 
this could be directly known only through an intermediate 
intelligence. The Dramatic Scene was the principal device 
James used to objectify the Indirect Approach and give it self- 
limiting form. Depending on the degree of limitation neces- 
sary to make the material objective and visible all round, his 
use of the Scene resembled that in the stage-play. The com- 
plexities of possible choice are endless and some of them are 
handled below. 

The Plea for a Fine Central Intelligence. But the novel 
was not a play however dramatic it might be, and among the 
distinctions between the two forms was the possibility, which 
belonged to the novel alone, of setting up a fine central intel- 
ligence in terms of which everything in it might be unified 
and upon which everything might be made to depend. No 
other art could do this; no other art could dramatise the in- 
dividual at his finest; and James worked this possibility for all 
it was worth. It was the very substance upon which the di- 
rected attention, the cultivated appreciation, might be concen- 
trated. And this central intelligence served a dual purpose, 
with many modifications and exchanges among its branches. 
It made a compositional centre for art such as life never saw, 
If it could be created at all, then it presided over everything 
else 5 and would compel the story to be nothing but the story 
of what that intelligence felt about what happened. This com- 
positional strength, in its turn, only increased the value and 
meaning of the intelligence as intelligence, and vice versa. 
The plea for the use of such an intelligence both as an end and 
a means is constant throughout the Prefaces as the proudest 
end and as the most difficult means. Some of the specific 
problems which its use poses are discussed in the Prefaces to 



the novels where they apply. Here it is enough to repeat once 
more and not for the last time that the fine intelligence, 
either as agent or as the object of action or as both is at the 
heart of James' work. 

So much for the major themes which pervade and condition 
and unite the whole context of the Prefaces. It is the intention 
of this essay now to list some of the more important subjects 
discussed in their own right, indicating where they may be 
found and briefly what turn the discussions take. The Roman 
numerals immediately following the headings refer to the 
volume numbers in the New York Edition. 1 The occasional 
small Arabic numerals refer to material within the various 
prefaces according to their pagination here. 

The International Theme (XII, XIV, XVIII). The discus- 
sion of the International Theme in these three volumes has 
its greatest value in strict reference to James' own work; it 
was one of the three themes peculiarly his. It deals, however, 
with such specific questions as the opposition of manners as a 
motive in drama, the necessity of opposing positive elements 
of character, and the use of naive or innocent characters as the 
subjects of drama; these are of perennial interest. There is 
also a discussion under this head of the difference between 
major and minor themes. In X (p. 132), speaking of "A Lon- 
don Life," there is a discussion of the use of this theme for 
secondary rather than primary purposes. 

The Literary Life as a Theme (XV) and The Artist as a 
Theme (VII). The long sections of these two Prefaces deal- 
ing with these themes form a single essay. XV offers the artist 
enamoured of perfection, his relation to his art, to his audi- 

1 For possible convenience in reference I append the numbers and tides of 
thos? volumes which contain Prefaces. I Roderick Hudson; II The American; 
III The Portrait of a Lady; V The Princess Casamassima; VII The Tragic 
Muse; IX The Awkward Age; X The Spoils of Poynton; XI What Maisie 
Knew; XII The Aspern Papers; XIII The Reverberator; XIV Lady Barbarina; 
XV The Lesson of the Master; XVI The Author of Beltraffio; XVII The Altar 
of the Dead; XVIII Daisy Miller; XIX The Wings of the Dove; XXI The 
Ambassadors; XXIII The Golden Bowl. 



ence, and himself. VII presents the artist in relation to society 
and to himself. In both sections the possibilities and the ac- 
tualities are worked out with specific reference to the char- 
acters in the novels and the tales. The discussion is of practical 
importance to any writer. Of particular interest is the demon- 
stration in VII that the successful artist as such cannot be a 
hero in fiction, because he is immersed in his work, while the 
amateur or the failure remains a person and may have a 
heroic downfall. The thematic discussion in XVI properly 
belongs under this head, especially pp. 235-37. 

The Use of the Eminent or Great (VII, XII, XV, XVI) 
and The Use of Historical Characters (XII, XV). The sepa- 
ration of these two subjects is artificial, as for James they were 
two aspects of one problem. Being concerned with the tragedies 
of the high intelligence and the drama of the socially and in- 
tellectually great (much as the old tragedies dealt death to 
kings and heroes) he argues for using the type ,of the his- 
torical and contemporary great and against using the actual 
historical or contemporary figure. The type of the great gives 
the artist freedom; actual figures bind him without advan- 
tage. If he used in one story or another Shelley, Coleridge, 
Browning, and (I think) Oscar Wilde, he took them only as 
types and so far transformed them that they appear as pure 
fictions. The real argument is this: the novelist is concerned 
with types and only with the eminent case among the types, 
and the great man is in a way only the most eminent case of 
the average type, and is certainly the type that the novelist can 
do most with. To the charge that his "great" people were 
such as could never exist, James responded that the world 
would be better if they did. In short, the novelist's most lucid 
representation may be only his most ironic gesture. 

The Dead as a Theme (XVII). Five pages (242-46) of this 
Preface present "the permanent appeal to the free intelligence 
of some image of the lost dead" and describe how this appeal 
may be worked out in fiction. "The sense of the state of the 


dead/' James felt, "is but part of the sense of the state of 

On Wonder, Ghosts, and the Supernatural (XII, XVII) 
and How to Produce Evil (XII). These again make two as- 
pects of one theme and the rules for securing one pretty much 
resemble those for securing the other. They are shown best 
"by showing almost exclusively the way they are felt, by 
recognising as their main interest some impression strongly 
made by them and intensely received." That was why Psychi- 
cal Research Society Ghosts were unreal; there was no one to 
apprehend them. The objectively rendered prodigy always 
ran thin. Thickness is in the human consciousness that records 
and amplifies. And there is also always necessary, for the 
reader to feel the ghost, the history of somebody's normal re- 
lation to it Thus James felt that the climax of Poe's Pym was 
a failure because there the horrific was without connections. In 
both Prefaces the ghost story is put as the modern equivalent of 
the fairy story; and the one must be as economical of its means 
as the other. The problem of rendering evil in "The Turn of 
the Screw" (XII) was slightly different; it had to be repre- 
sented, like the ghosts who performed it, in the consciousness 
of it of normal persons, but it could not be described. The 
particular act when rendered always fell short of being evil, 
so that the problem seemed rather to make the character capa- 
ble of anything. "Only make the reader's general vision of 
evil intense enough, I said to myself and that is already a 
charming job and his own experience, his own sympathy 
(with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will 
supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make 
him thin\ the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are 
released from weak specifications." (XII, 176.) 

On the Use of Wonder to Animate a Theme (XI). This is 
the faculty of wonder on a normal plane and corresponds to 
freshness, intelligent innocence, and curiosity in the face of 
life; a faculty which when represented in a character almost 



of itself alone makes that character live. It is a faculty upon 
which every novelist depends, both in his books to make them 
vivid, and in his readers where it is the faculty that drives 
them to read. It is to be distinguished from the wonder dis- 
cussed in the paragraph next above. 

Romanticism and Reality (II). Eight pages in this Preface 
(30-37) attempt to answer the question: Why is one picture 
of life called romantic and another real? After setting aside 
several answers as false or misleading, James gives his own. 
"The only general attribute of projected romance that I can 
see, the only one that fits all its cases, is the fact of the kind 
of experience with which it deals experience liberated, so to 
speak; experience disengaged, disembodied, disencumbered, 
exempt from the conditions that we usually know to attach to 
it, and if we wish so to put the matter, drag upon it, and 
operating in a medium which relieves it, in a particular in- 
terest, of the inconvenience of a related, a measurable state, 
a state subject to all our vulgar communities." Then James 
applies his answer to his own novel (The American). "The 
experience here represented is the disconnected and uncon- 
trolled experience uncontrolled by our general sense of 'the 
way things happen' which romance alone more or less suc- 
cessfully palms off on us," Since the reader knows "the way 
things happen," he must be tactfully drugged for the duration 
of the novel; and that is part of the art of fiction. 

The Time Question (I, 12-14). Although the effects de- 
pendent on the superior effect of an adequate lapse of time 
were consciously important to James, the lapse of time itself 
was only once discussed by him in the Prefaces, and there to 
explain or criticise the failure to secure it. Roderick Hudson, 
he said, falls to pieces too quickly. Even though he is special 
and eminent, still he must not live, change and disintegrate 
too rapidly; he loses verisimilitude by so doing. His great 
capacity for ruin is projected on too small a field. He should 
have had more adventures and digested more experience be- 



fore we can properly believe that he has reached his end. But 
James was able to put the whole matter succinctly. "To give 
all the sense without all the substance or all the surface, and 
so to summarise or foreshorten, so to make values both rich 
and sharp, that the mere procession of items and profiles is not 
only, for the occasion, superseded, but is, for essential quality, 
almost 'compromised' such a case of delicacy proposes itself 
at every turn to the painter of life who wishes both to treat his 
chosen subject and to confine his necessary picture." Compo- 
sition and arrangement must give the effect of the lapse of 
time. For this purpose elimination was hardly a good enough 
device. The construction of a dramatic centre, as a rule in 
someone's consciousness, was much better, for the reason that 
this device, being acted upon in time, gave in parallel the 
positive effect of action, and thus of lapsing time. 

Geographical Representation (I, 8-10). These three pages 
deal with the question: To what extent should a named place 
be rendered on its own account? In Roderic^ Hudson James 
named Northampton, Mass. This, he said, he ought not to 
have done, since all he required was a humane community 
which was yet incapable of providing for "art." For this pur- 
pose a mere indication would have been sufficient. His gen- 
eral answer to the question was that a place should be named 
if the novelist wanted to make it an effective part of the story, 
as Balzac did in his studies of the ville de -province* 

The Commanding Centre as a Principle of Composition (I, 
II, VII, X, XI, XIX, XXI, XXIII). This is allied with the 
discussion of the use of a Central Intelligence above and with 
the three notes immediately below. It is a major consideration 
in each of the Prefaces numbered and is to be met with passim 
elsewhere. The whole question is bound up with James' ex- 
ceeding conviction that the art of fiction is an organic form, 
and that it can neither be looked at all round nor will it be 
able to move on its own account unless it has a solidly posed 
centre. Commanding centres are of various descriptions. In I 



it is in Rowland Mallet's consciousness of Roderick. In II it 
is in the image of Newman. In VII it is in the combination 
of relations between three characters. In X it is in a houseful 
of beautiful furniture. In XI it is the "ironic" centre of a 
child's consciousness against or illuminated by which the situ- 
ations gather meaning. In XIX it is in the title (The Wings 
of the Dove}> that is, in the influence of Milly Theale, who 
is seen by various people from the outside. In XXI it is wholly 
in Strether's consciousness. In XXIII it is, so to speak, half in 
the Prince, half in the Princess, and half in the motion with 
which the act is performed. 

The Proportion of Intelligence and Bewilderment (V). 
Upon the correct proportion depends the verisimilitude of a 
given character. Omniscience would be incredible; the novel- 
ist must not make his "characters too interpretative of the 
muddle of fate, or in other words too divinely, too priggishly 
clever." Without bewilderment, as without intelligence, there 
would be no story to tell. "Experience, as I see it, is our ap- 
prehension and our measure of what happens to us as social 
creatures any intelligent report of which has to be based on 
that apprehension." Bewilderment is the subject and some- 
one's intelligent feeling of it the story. The right mixture will 
depend on the quality of the bewilderment, whether it is the 
vague or the critical. The vague fool is necessary, but the 
leading interest is always in the intensifying, critical conscious- 

The Necessity of Fools (V, X, XI), and The Use of Mud- 
dlement (XI, XIX). These subjects are evidently related to 
that of Intelligence and Bewilderment. In themselves nothing, 
fools are the very agents of action. They represent the stupid 
force o life and are the cause of trouble to the intelligent 
consciousness. The general truth for the spectator of life was 
this: (X, 129) "The fixed constituents of almost any repro- 
ducible action are the fools who minister, at a particular crisis, 
to the intensity of the free spirit engaged with them." Mud- 



dlement is the condition of life which fools promote. "The 
effort really to see and really to represent is no idle business 
in face of the constant force that makes for muddlement. The 
great thing is indeed that the muddled state too is one of the 
very sharpest of the realities, that it also has colour and form 
and character, has often in fact a broad and rich comicality, 
many of the signs and values of the appreciable." (XI, 149.) 

Intelligence as a Receptive Lucidity (XI, XXI). The first 
of this pair of Prefaces almost wholly and the second largely 
deals with the methods of conditioning a sensibility so as to 
make a subject. In XI James shows how the sensibility of a 
child, intelligent as may be, can influence and shape and make 
lucid, people and situations outside as well as within its un- 
derstanding. She, Maisie, is the presiding receptive intelli* 
gence, the sole sensibility, in the book, and is furthermore the 
sole agent, by her mere existence, determining and changing 
the moral worth of the other characters. In XXI Str ether is 
outlined as the example of the adult sensibility fulfilling simi- 
lar functions, with the additional grace of greatly extended 

The Dramatic Scene (III, VII, IX, XI, XIX, XXI, and 
passim). We have already spoken under the same heading of 
James' general theory of the dramatic scene. It is too much of 
the whole substance of the technical discussion in many of the 
Prefaces to make more than a mere outline of its terms here 
possible. In III, 46 and XIX, 306, there is developed the 
figure of windows opening on a scene. The eye is the artist, 
the scene the subject, and the window the limiting form. 
From each selected window the scene is differently observed. 
In VII is discussed the theory of alternating scenes in terms of 
a centre (p. 90) . In IX, which is the most purely scenic of all 
the books, the use of the alternating scene is developed still 
further. At the end of XI there is a bitter postcript declaring 
the scenic character of the form. In XXI there is intermittent 
discussion of how to use the single consciousness to promote 



scenes, and a comparison with the general scenic method in 
XIX. It is principally to IX that the reader must resort for a 
sustained specific discussion of the Scene in fiction and its rela- 
tion to the Scene in drama, and to XIX, of which pp. 296-306 
deal with the scenic structure of that book, where the distinc- 
tion is made between Scenes and Pictures and it is shown how 
one partakes of the other, and where it is insisted on that the 
maximum value is obtained when both weights are felt. Sub- 
ordinate to this there is, in the same reference, a description 
of the various reflectors (characters) used to illuminate the 
subject in terms of the scene. 

On Revision (I, XXIII). The Notes on Revision in these 
Prefaces are mainly of interest with reference to what James 
actually did in revising his earlier works. He revised, as a 
rule, only in the sense that he re-envisaged the substance more 
accurately and more representatively. Revision was responsible 

On Illustrations in Fiction (XXIII). This is perhaps the 
most amusing note in all the Prefaces, and it is impossible to 
make out whether James did or did not like the frontispieces 
with which his collected volumes were adorned. He was in- 
sistent that no illustration to a book of his should have any 
direct bearing upon it. The danger was real. "Anything that 
relieves responsible prose of the duty of being, while placed 
before us, good enough, interesting enough, and, if the ques- 
tion be of picture, pictorial enough, above all in itself, does it 
the worst of services, and may well inspire in the lover of litera- 
ture certain lively questions as to the future of that institu- 

The Nouvelle as a Form (XV, XVI, XVIII) . The nouvelle 
the long-short story or the short novel was perhaps James' 
favourite form, and the form least likely of appreciation in the 
Anglo-Saxon reading world, to which it seemed neither one 
thing nor the other. To James it was a small reflector capable 
of illuminating or mirroring a great deal of material. To the 



artist who practised in it the difficulties of its economy were a 
constant seduction and an exalted delight. 

On Rendering Material by its Appearances Alone (V). 
James had the problem of rendering a character whose whole 
life centred in the London underworld of socialism, anarch- 
ism, and conspiracy, matters of which he personally knew 
nothing. But, he decided, his wanted effect and value were 
"precisely those of our not knowing, of society's not knowing, 
but only guessing and suspecting and trying to ignore, what 
'goes on' irreconcilably, subversively, beneath the vast smug 
surface." Hints and notes and observed appearances were al- 
ways enough. The real wisdom was this: that "if you 
haven't, for fiction, the root of the matter in you, haven't the 
sense of life and the penetrating imagination, you are a fool 
in the very presence of the revealed and the assured; but that 
if you are so armed you are not really helpless, not without 
your resource, even before mysteries abysmal." 

And that is a good tone upon which to close our rehearsal 
of the major subjects James examines in his Prefaces. Other 
readers and other critics (the two need not be quite the same) 
might well have found other matters for emphasis; and so too 
they may reprehend the selection of Minor Notes which fol- 

On Development and Continuity (I). Developments are 
the condition of interest, since the subject is always the related 
state of figures and things. Hence developments are ridden 
by the principle of continuity. Actually, relations never end, 
but the artist must make them appear to do so. Felicity of 
form and composition depend on knowing to what point a 
development is indispensable. 

On Antithesis of Characters (I). The illustration is the 
antithesis of Mary and Christina in this book. James observes 
that antitheses rarely come off and that it may pass for a 
triumph, if taking them together, one of them is strong 
(p. 18). 



On the Emergence of Characters (X, 127). James' view may 
be summarised in quotation. "A character is interesting as it 
comes out, and by the process and duration of that emergence; 
just as a procession is effective by the way it unrolls, turning 
to a mere mob if it all passes at once." 

On Misplaced Middles (VII, XIX). Misplaced Middles are 
the result of excessive foresight. As the art of the drama is of 
preparations, that of the novel is only less so. The first half 
o a fiction is the stage or theatre of the second half, so that 
too much may be expended on the first. Then the problem 
is consummately to mask the fault and "confer on the false 
quantity the brave appearance of the true." James indicates 
how the middles of VII and XIX were misplaced, and al- 
though he believed the fault great, thought that he had in 
both cases passed it off by craft and dissimulation. 

On Improvisation (XII, 172). Nothing was so easy as im- 
provisation, and it usually ran away with the story, e.g., in 
The Arabian Nights. "The thing was to aim at absolute 
singleness, clearness and roundness, and yet to depend on an 
imagination working freely, working (call it) with extrava- 
gance; by which law it wouldn't be thinkable except as free 
and wouldn't be amusing except as controlled." 

The Anecdote (XIII, 181). "The anecdote consists, ever, of 
something that has oddly happened to some one, and the first 
of its duties is to point directly to the person whom it so dis- 

The Anecdote and the Developmental (XV, 221, XVI, 232). 
In the first of these references James observes that whereas 
the anecdote may come from any source, specifically com- 
plicated states must come from the author's own mind. In the 
second he says that The Middle Hears is an example of im- 
posed form (he had an order for a short story) and the struggle 
was to keep compression rich and accretions compressed; to 
keep the form that of the concise anecdote, whereas the sub- 
ject would seem one comparatively demanding developments. 



James solved the problem by working from the outward edge 
in rather than from the centre outward; and this was law for 
the small form. At the end of this Preface, there is a phrase 
about chemical reductions and compressions making the short 
story resemble a sonnet. 

On Operative Irony (XV, 222). James defended his "super- 
subtle fry" on the ground that they were ironic, and he found 
the strength of applied irony "in the sincerities, the lucidities, 
the utilities that stand behind it." If these characters and these 
stories were not a campaign for something better than the 
world offered then they were worthless. "But this is exactly 
what we mean by operative irony. It implies and projects the 
possible other case, the case rich and edifying where the 
actuality is pretentious and vain." 

On Foreshortening (VII, XV, XVII, XVIII). This is really 
a major subject, but the discussions James made of it were 
never extensive, seldom over two lines at a time. I append 
samples. In VII, 88, he speaks of foreshortening not by add- 
ing or omitting items but by figuring synthetically, by ex- 
quisite chemical adjustments. In XVII, 262, the nouvelle 
Julia Bride is considered as a foreshortened novel to the 
extreme. In XVIII, 278, after defining once again the art of 
representation and insisting on the excision of the irrelevant, 
James names Foreshortening as a deep principle and an in- 
valuable device. It conduced, he said, "to the only compact- 
ness that has a charm, to the only spareness that has a force, 
to the only simplicity that has a grace those, in each order, 
that produce the rich effect." 

On "Narrative in the First Person (XXI, 320-321). James 
bore a little heavily against this most familiar of all narrative 
methods. Whether his general charge will hold is perhaps 
irrelevant; it holds perfectly with reference to the kinds of 
fiction he himself wrote, and the injury to unity and compo- 
sition which he specifies may well be observed in Proust's 
long novel where every dodge is unavailingly resorted to in 



the attempt to get round the freedom of the method. The 
double privilege (in the first person), said James, of being 
at once subject and object sweeps away difficulties at the ex- 
pense of discrimination. It prevents the possibility of a centre 
and prevents real directness of contact. Its best effect, perhaps, 
is that which in another connection James called the mere 
"platitude of statement." 

On Ficelles (XXI, 322-323). Taking the French theatrical 
term, James so labeled those characters who belong less to the 
subject than to the treatment of it. The invention and disposi- 
tion of ficdles is one of the difficulties swept away by the first 
person narrative. 

On Characters as Disponibles (III, 42-44). Here again 
James adapted a French word, taking it this time from 
Turgenev. Disponibles are the active or passive persons who 
solicit the author's imagination, appearing as subject to the 
chances and complications of existence and requiring of the 
author that he find for them their right relations and build 
their right fate. 

The rule of space forbids extending even so scant a selection 
from so rich a possible index. But let me add a round dozen 
with page references alone. On Dialogue (IX, 106) ; Against 
Dialect (XVIII, 279); On Authority (XVIII, 281); On Con- 
fusion of Forms (IX, in); On Overtreatment (III, 57; IX, 
117) ; On Writing of the Essence and of the Form (III, 53) ; 
On Making Compromises Conformities (XIX, 295) ; On the 
Coercive Charm of Form (IX, in); On Major Themes in 
Modern Drama (IX, 112); On Sickness as a Theme (XIX, 
289); On Reviving Characters (V, 73); On Fiction Read 
Aloud (XXIII, 346-47) ; and so on. 

The reader may possibly have observed that we have no- 
where illustrated the relation which James again and again 
made eloquently plain between the value or morality of his 
art and the form in which it appears. It is not easy to select 
from a multiplicity of choice, and it is impossible, when the 



matter emerges in a style already so compact, to condense. I 
should like to quote four sentences from the middle and end 
of a paragraph in the Preface to The Portrait of a Lady 

There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth in this con- 
nexion than that of the perfect dependence of the "moral" sense of 
a work of art on the amount of felt life concerned in producing it. 
The question comes back thus, obviously, to the kind and degree 
of the artist's prime sensibility, which is the soil out of which his 
subject springs. The quality and capacity of that soil, its capacity 
to "grow" with due freshness and straightness any vision of life, 
represents, strongly or weakly, the projected morality. . . . Here 
we get exactly the high price of the novel as a literary form its 
power not only, while preserving that form with closeness, to 
range through all the differences of the individual relation to its 
general subject-matter, all the varieties of outlook on life, of dis- 
position to reflect and project, created by conditions that are never 
the same from man to man (or, as far as that goes, from woman 
to woman), but positively to appear more true to its character in 
proportion as it strains, or tends to burst, with a latent extrava- 
gance, its mould. 

These sentences represent, I think, the genius and intention 
of James the novelist, and ought to explain the serious and 
critical devotion with which he made of his Prefaces a vade- 
mecum both for himself as the solace of achievement, and 
for others as a guide and exemplification. We have, by what 
is really no more than an arbitrary exertion of interest, ex- 
hibited a rough scheme of the principal contents; there remain 
the Prefaces themselves. 


Although the Prefaces to The Wings of the Dove or 
The Awkward Age are more explicitly technical in refer- 
ence, although that to What Maisie Knew more firmly de- 
velops the intricacies of a theme, and although that to The 



Tragic Muse is perhaps in every respect the most useful of all 
the Prefaces, I think it may be better to fasten our single at- 
tention on the Preface to The Ambassadors. This was the 
book of which James wrote most endearingly. It had in his 
opinion the finest and most intelligent of all his themes, and 
he thought it the most perfectly rendered of his books. Further- 
more in its success it constituted a work thoroughly character- 
istic of its author and of no one else. There is a contagion 
and a beautiful desolation before a great triumph of the hu- 
man mindbefore any approach to perfection which we 
had best face for what there is in them. 

This Preface divides itself about equally between the outline 
of the story as a story, how it grew in James' mind from the 
seed of a dropped word (pp. 307-317), and a discussion of the 
form in which the book was executed with specific examina- 
tion of the method of presentation through the single con- 
sciousness of its hero Lambert Strether (pp. 317-326). If we 
can expose the substance of these two discussions we shall 
have been in the process as intimate as it is possible to be with 
the operation of an artist's mind. In imitating his thought, 
step by step and image by image, we shall in the end be able 
to appropriate in a single act of imagination all he has to say. 

The situation involved in The Ambassadors, James tells 
us, "is gathered up betimes, that is in the second chapter of 
Book Fifth . . . planted or 'sunk,' stiffly or saliently, in the 
centre of the current." Never had he written a story where 
the seed had grown into so large a plant and yet remained as 
an independent particle, that is in a single quotable passage. 
Its intention had been firm throughout. 

This independent seed is found in Strether's outburst in 
Gloriani's Paris garden to little Bilham. "The idea of the tale 
resides indeed in the very fact that an hour of such un- 
precedented ease should have been felt by him as a crisis." 
Strether feels that he has missed his life, that he made in his 
youth a grave mistake about the possibilities of life, and he 



exhorts Bilham not to repeat his mistake. "Live all you can. 
Live, live!" And he has the terrible question within him: 
"Would there yet perhaps be time for reparation?" At any 
rate he sees what he had missed and knows the injury done 
his character. The story is the demonstration of that vision 
as it came about, of the vision in process. 

The original germ had been the repetition by a friend of 
words addressed him by a man of distinction similar in burden 
to those addressed by Strether to little Bilham. This struck 
James as a theme of great possibilities. Although any theme 
or subject is absolute once the novelist has accepted it, there 
are degrees of merit among which he may first choose. "Even 
among the supremely good since with such alone is it one's 
theory of one's honour to be concerned there is an ideal 
beauty of goodness the invoked action of which is to raise the 
artistic faith to a maximum. Then, truly > one's theme may be 
said to shine." 

And the theme of The Ambassador? shone so for James 
that it resembled "a monotony of fine weather," in this respect 
differing much from The Wings of the Dove, which gave 
him continual trouble. "I rejoiced," James said, "in the promise 
of a hero so mature, who would give me thereby the more to 
bite into since it's only into thickened motive and accumu- 
lated character, I think, that the painter of life bites more than 
a little." By maturity James meant character and imagination. 
But imagination must not be the predominant quality in him; 
for the theme in hand, the comparatively imaginative man 
would do. The predominant imagination could wait for an- 
other book, until James should be willing to pay for the 
privilege of presenting it. (See also on this point the discus- 
sion of Intelligence and Bewilderment above.) 

There was no question, nevertheless, that The Ambassa- 
dors had a major theme. There was the "supplement of 
situation logically involved" in Strether's delivering himself to 
Bilham. And James proceeds to describe the novelist's thrill 



in finding the situation involved by a conceived character. 
Once the situations are rightly found the story "assumes the 
authenticity of concrete existence"; the labour is to find them. 

"Art deals with what we see, it must first contribute full- 
handed that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise ex- 
pressed, in the garden of life which material elsewhere grown 
is stale and uneatable." The subject once found, complete 
with its situations, must then be submitted to a process. There 
is the subject, which is the story of one's hero, and there is the 
story of the story itself which is the story of the process o 

Still dealing with the story of his hero, James describes 
how he accounted for Strether, how he found what led up to 
his outburst in the garden. Where has he come from and 
why? What is he doing in Paris? To answer these questions 
was to possess Strether. But the answers must follow the 
principle of probability. Obviously, by his outburst, he was a 
man in a false position. What false position? The most prob- 
able would be the right one. Granting that he was American, 
he would probably come from New England. If that were 
the case, James immediately knew a great deal about him, and 
,bad to sift and sort. He would, presumably, have come to 
Paris with a definite view of life which Paris at once assaulted; 
and the situation would arise in the interplay or conflict re- 
sulting. . . . There was also the energy of the story itself, 
which once under way was irresistible, to help its author 
along. In the end the story seems to know of itself what it's 
about; and its impudence is always there "there, so to speak, 
for grace, and effect, and allure!' 

These steps taken in finding his story gave it a functional 
assurance. "The false position, for our belated man of the 
world belated because he had endeavoured so long to escape 
being one, and now at last had really to face his doom the 
false position for him, I say, was obviously to have presented 
himself at the gate of that boundless menagerie primed with 



a moral scheme which was yet framed to break down on any 
approach to vivid facts; that is to any at all liberal appreciation 
of them." His note was to be of discrimination and his dram& 
was to "become, under stress, the drama of discrimination." 

There follows the question, apparently the only one thai 
troubled James in the whole composition of this book, ol 
whether he should have used Paris as the scene of Strether's 
outburst and subsequent conversion. Paris had a trivial and 
vulgar association as the obvious place to be tempted in. The 
revolution performed by Strether was to have nothing to do 
with that betise. He was to be thrown forward rather "upon 
his lifelong trick of intense reflexion," with Paris a minor mat- 
ter symbolising the world other than the town of Woolet, 
Mass., from which he came. Paris was merely the lively place 
for such a drama, and thus saved James much labour of prepa- 

Now turning from the story of his hero to the story of his 
story, James begins by referring to the fact that it appeared 
in twelve instalments in the North American Review, and 
describes the pleasure he took in making the recurrent breaks 
and resumptions of serial publication a small compositional 
law in itself. The book as we have it is in twelve parts. He 
passes immediately to the considerations which led him to 
employ only one centre and to keep it entirely in Strether's 
consciousness. It was Strether's adventure and the only way 
to make it rigorously his was to have it seen only through his 
eyes. There were other characters with situations of their own 
which bore on Strether. "But Strether's sense of these things, 
and Strether's only, should avail me for showing them; I 
should know them only through his more or less groping 
knowledge of them, since his very gropings would figure 
among his most interesting motions." This rigour of repre- 
sentation would give him both unity and intensity. The dif- 
ficulties, too, which the rigour imposed, made the best, because 
the hardest, determinants of effects. Once he adopted his method 



he had to be consistent; hence arose his difficulties. For ex. 
ample, there was the problem of making Mrs. Newsome 
(whose son Strether had come to Paris to save), actually in 
Woolet, Mass., "no less intensely than circuitously present' 5 ; 
that is, to make her influence press on Strether whenever there 
was need for it. The advantage of presenting her through 
Strether was that only Strether's feeling of her counted for the 
story. Any other method would not only have failed but 
would have led to positive irrelevance. Hence, "One's work 
should have composition, because composition alone is posi- 
tive beauty." 

Next James considers what would have happened to his 
story had he endowed Strether with the privilege of the first 
person* "Variety, and many other queer matters as well, might 
have been smuggled in by the back door." But these could not 
have been intensely represented as Strether's experience, but 
would have been his only on his own say-so. "Strether, on the 
other hand, encaged and provided for as The Ambassadors 
encages and provides, has to keep in view proprieties much 
stiffer and more salutary than our straight and credulous gape 
are likely to bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to 
meet, in a word, that forbid the terrible fluidity of self -revela- 

Nevertheless, in order to represent Strether Tames had to 
resort to confidants for him, namely Maria Gostrey and Way- 
marsh, ficelles to aid the treatment. It is thanks to the use of 
these ficelles that James was able to construct the book in a 
series of alternating scenes and thus give it an objective air. 
Indispensable facts, both of the present and of the past, are 
presented dramatically so the reader can see them only 
through their use. But it is necessary, for the ficelles to suc- 
ceed in their function, that their character should be artfully 
dissimulated. For example, Maria Gostrey's connection with 
the subject is made to carry itself as a real one. 

Analogous to the use of ficelles, James refers to the final 



scene in the book as an "artful expedient for mere consistency 
of form." It gives or adds nothing on its own account but only 
expresses "as vividly as possible certain things quite other than 
itself and that are of the already fixed and appointed measure." 

Although the general structure of the book is scenic and the 
specific centre is in Strether's consciousness of the scenes, 
James was delighted to note that he had dissimulated through- 
out the book many exquisite treacheries to those principles. 
He gives as examples Strether's first encounter with Chad 
Newsorne, and Mamie Pocock's hour of suspense in the hotel 
salon. These are insisted on as instances of the representa- 
tional which, "for the charm of opposition and renewal/' are 
other than scenic. In short, James mixed his effects without 
injuring the consistency of his form. "From the equal play of 
such oppositions the book gathers an intensity that fairly adds 
to the dramatic." James was willing to argue that this was so 
"for the sake of the moral involved; which is not that the par- 
ticular production before us exhausts the interesting questions 
that it raises, but that the Novel remains still, under the right 
persuasion, the most independent, most elastic, most prodi- 
gious of literary forms." 

It is this last sentiment that our analysis of this Preface is 
meant to exemplify; and it is such is the sustained ability 
of James' mind to rehearse the specific in the light of the gen- 
eral an exemplification which might be repeated in terms of 
almost any one of these Prefaces. 


There is in any day of agonised doubt and exaggerated cer- 
tainty as to the relation of the artist to society, an unusual 
attractive force in the image of a man whose doubts are con- 
scientious and whose certainties are all serene. Henry James 
scrupled relentlessly as to the minor aspects of his art but of 
its major purpose and essential character his knowledge was 



calm, full, and ordered. One answer to almost every relevant 
question will be found, given always in specific terms and 
flowing from illustrative example, somewhere among his Pref- 
aces; and if the answer he gives is not the only one, nor to 
some minds necessarily the right one, it has yet the paramount 
merit that it results from a thoroughly consistent, informed 
mind operating at its greatest stretch. Since what he gives is 
always specifically rendered he will even help you disagree 
with him by clarifying the subject of argument. 

He wanted the truth about the important aspects of life as 
it was experienced, and he wanted to represent that truth with 
the greatest possible lucidity, beauty, and fineness, not ab- 
stractly or in mere statement, but vividly, imposing on it the 
form of the imagination, the acutest relevant sensibility, which 
felt it. Life itself the subject of art was formless and likely 
to be a waste, with its situations leading to endless bewilder- 
ment; while art, the imaginative representation of life, se- 
lected, formed, made lucid and intelligent, -gave value and^ 
meaning to, the contrasts and oppositions and processions of 
the society that confronted the artist. The emphases were on 
intelligence James was avowedly the novelist of the free 
spirit, the liberated intelligenceon feeling, and on form. 

The subject might be what it would and the feeling of it 
what it could. When it was once found and known, it should 
be worked for all it was worth. If it was felt intensely and 
intelligently enough it would reach, almost of itself, towards 
adequate form, a prescribed shape and size and density. Then 
everything must be sacrificed to the exigence of that form, it 
must never be loose or overflowing but always tight and con- 
tained. There was the "coercive charm" of Form, so con- 
ceived, which would achieve, dramatise or enact, the moral 
intent of the theme by making it finely intelligible, better than 
anything else. 

So it is that thinking of the difficulty of representing Isabelle 
Archer in The Portrait of a Lady as a "mere young thing" 



who was yet increasingly intelligent, James was able to write 
these sentences. "Now to see deep difficulty braved is at any 
time, for the really addicted artist, to feel almost even as a 
pang, the beautiful incentive, and to feel it verily in such 
sort as to wish the danger intensified. The difficulty most 
worth tackling can only be for him, in these conditions, the 
greatest the case permits of." It is because such sentiments 
rose out of him like prayers that for James art was enough. 























The Ait of the Novel 


"RODERICK HUDSON" was begun in Florence in the spring of 
1874, designed from the first for serial publication in "The 
Atlantic Monthly," where it opened in January 1875 and per- 
sisted through the year. I yield to the pleasure of placing these 
circumstances on record, as I shall place others,, and as I have 
yielded to the need of renewing acquaintance with the book 
after a quarter of a century. This revival of an all but extinct 
relation with an early work may often produce for an artist, I 
think, more kinds of interest and emotion than he shall find 
it easy to express, and yet will light not a little, to his eyes, that 
veiled face of his Muse which he is condemned forever and all 
anxiously to study. The art of representation bristles with 
questions the very terms of which are difficult to apply and to 
appreciate; but whatever makes it arduous makes it, for our 
refreshment, infinite, causes the practice of it, with experience, 
to spread round us in a widening, not in a narrowing circle. 
Therefore it is that experience has to organise, for convenience 
and cheer, some system of observation for fear, in the admir- 
able immensity, of losing its way. We see it as pausing from 
time to time to consult its notes, to measure, for guidance, as 
many aspects and distances as possible, as many steps taken 
and obstacles mastered and fruits gathered and beauties en- 
joyed. Everything counts, nothing is superfluous in such a 
survey; the explorer's note-book strikes me here as endlessly 
receptive. This accordingly is what I mean by the contributive 
value or put it simply as, to one's own sense, the beguiling 


charm of the accessory facts in a given artistic case. This 
is why, as one looks back, the private history of any sincere 
work, however modest its pretensions, looms with its own 
completeness in the rich, ambiguous aesthetic air, and seems at 
once to borrow a dignity and to mark, so to say, a station. 
This is why, reading over, for revision, correction and republi- 
cation, the volumes here in hand, I find myself, all attentively, 
in presence of some such recording scroll or engraved com- 
memorative table from which the "private" character, more- 
over, quite insists on dropping out. These notes represent, 
over a considerable course, the continuity of an artist's en- 
deavour, the growth of his whole operative consciousness and, 
best of all, perhaps, their own tendency to multiply, with the 
implication, thereby, of a memory much enriched. Addicted 
to "stories" and inclined to retrospect, he fondly takes, under 
this backward view, his whole unfolding, his process of pro- 
duction, for a thrilling tale, almost for a wondrous adventure, 
only asking himself at what stage of remembrance the mark of 
the relevant will begin to fail He frankly proposes to take 
this mark everywhere for granted. 

"Roderick Hudson" was my first attempt at a novel, a long 
fiction with a "complicated" subject, and I recall again the 
quite uplifted sense with which my idea, such as it was, per- 
mitted me at last to put quite out to sea. I had but hugged the 
shore on sundry previous small occasions; bumping about, to 
acquire skill, in the shallow waters and sandy coves of the 
"short story" and master as yet of no vessel constructed to 
carry a sail. The subject of "Roderick" figured to me vividly 
this employment of canvas, and I have not forgotten, even 
after long years, how the blue southern sea seemed to spread 
immediately before me and the breath of the spice-islands to 
be already in the breeze. Yet it must even then have begun 
for me too, the ache of fear, that was to become so familiar, of 
being unduly tempted and led on by "developments" ; which 
is but the desperate discipline of the question involved in 


them. They are of the very essence of the novelist's process, 
and it is by their aid, fundamentally, that his idea takes form 
and lives; but they impose on him, through the principle of 
continuity that rides them, a proportionate anxiety. They are 
the very condition of interest, which languishes and drops 
without them; the painter's subject consisting ever, obviously, 
of the related state, to each other, of certain figures and things. 
To exhibit these relations, once they have all been recognised, 
is to "treat" his idea, which involves neglecting none of those 
that directly minister to interest; the degree of that directness 
remaining meanwhile a matter of highly difficult appreciation, 
and one on which felicity of form and composition, as a part 
of the total effect, mercilessly rests. Up to what point is such 
and such a development indispensable to the interest? What 
is the point beyond which it ceases to be rigorously so ? Where, 
for the complete expression of one's subject, does a particular 
relation stop giving way to some other not concerned in that 

Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite 
problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry 
of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear 
to do so. He is in the perpetual predicament that the con- 
tinuity of things is the whole matter, for him, of comedy and 
tragedy; that this continuity is never, by the space of an instant 
or an inch, broken, and that, to do anything at all, he has at 
once intensely to consult and intensely to ignore it. All of 
which will perhaps pass but for a supersubtle way of pointing 
the plain moral that a young embroiderer of the canvas of life 
soon began to work in terror, fairly, of the vast expanse of 
that surface, of the boundless number of its distinct perfora- 
tions for the needle, and of the tendency inherent in his many- 
coloured flowers and figures to cover and consume as many as 
possible of the little holes. The development of the flower, of 
the figure, involved thus an immense counting of holes and a 
careful selection among them. That would have been, It 


seemed to kirn, a brave enough process, were it not the very 
nature of the holes so to invite, to solicit, to persuade, to prac- 
tise positively a thousand lures and deceits. The prime effect 
of so sustained a system, so prepared a surface, is to lead on 
and on; while the fascination of following resides, by the same 
token, in the presumabilky somewhere of a convenient, of a 
visibly-appointed stopping-place. Art would be easy indeed if ? 
by a fond power disposed to "patronise" it, such conveniences, 
such simplifications, had been provided. We have, as the case 
stands, to invent and establish them, to arrive at them by a 
difficult, dire process of selection and comparison, of surrender 
and sacrifice. The very meaning of expertness is acquired 
courage to brace one's self for the cruel crisis from the mo- 
ment one sees it grimly loom. 

"Roderick Hudson" was further, was earnestly pursued dur- 
ing a summer partly spent in the Black Forest and (as I had 
returned to America early in September) during three months 
passed near Boston. It is one of the silver threads of the re- 
coverable texture of that embarrassed phase, however, that the 
book was not finished when it had to begin appearing in 
monthly fragments: a fact in the light of which I find myself 
live over again, and quite with wonderment and tenderness, 
so intimate an experience of difficulty and delay. To have 
"liked" so much writing it, to have worked out with such 
conviction the pale embroidery, and yet not, at the end of so 
many months, to have come through, was clearly still to have 
fallen short of any facility and any confidence: though the 
long-drawn process now most appeals to memory, I confess, 
by this very quality of shy and groping duration. One fact 
about it indeed outlives all others; the fact that, as the loved 
Italy was the scene of rny fiction so much more loved than 
one has ever been able, even after fifty efforts, to say! and as 
having had to leave it persisted as an inward ache, so there 
was soreness in still contriving, after a fashion, to hang about 
It and in prolonging, from month to month, the illusion of the 


golden air. Little enough of that medium may the novel, read 
over today, seem to supply; yet half the actual interest lurks 
for me in the earnest, baffled intention of making it felt. A 
whole side of the old consciousness, under this mild pressure, 
flushes up and prevails again; a reminder, ever so penetrating, 
of the quantity of "evocation" involved in my plan, and of the 
quantity I must even have supposed myself to achieve. I take 
the lingering perception of all this, I may add that is of the 
various admonitions of the whole reminiscence for a signal 
instance of the way a work of art, however small, if but suf- 
ficiently sincere, may vivify and even dignify the accidents 
and incidents of its growth. 

I must that winter (which I again like to put on record 
that I spent in New York) have brought up my last instal- 
ments in due time, for I recall no haunting anxiety: what I do 
recall perfectly is the felt pleasure, during those months and 
in East Twenty-fifth Street! of trying, on the other side of 
the world, still to surround with the appropriate local glow 
the characters that had combined, to my vision, the previous 
year in Florence. A benediction, a great advantage, as seemed 
to me, had so from the first rested on them, and to nurse 
them along was really to sit again in the high, charming, 
shabby old room which had originally overarched them and 
which, in the hot May and June, had looked out, through the 
slits of cooling shutters* at the rather dusty but ever-romantic 
glare of Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The house formed the 
corner (I delight to specify) of Via della Scala, and I fear that 
what the early chapters of the book most "render" to me to* 
day is not the umbrageous air of their New England town, 
but the view of the small cab-stand sleepily disposed long be- 
fore the days of strident electric cars round the rococo obelisk 
of the Piazza, which is supported on its pedestal, if I remenv- 
her rightly, by four delightful little elephants. (That, at any 
rate, is how the object ia question, deprecating verification, 
comes back to me with the clatter of the horse-pails, the dis- 


cussions, in the intervals of repose under well-drawn hoods, of 
the unbuttoned cocchieri, sons of the most garrulous of races, 
and the occasional stillness as of the noonday desert.) 

Pathetic, as we say, on the other hand, no doubt, to re- 
perusal, the manner in which the evocation, so far as attempted, 
of the small New England town of my first two chapters, fails 
of intensity if intensity, in such a connexion, had been in- 
deed to be looked for. Could I verily, by the terms of my little 
plan, have "gone in" for it at the best, and even though one of 
these terms was the projection, for my fable, at the outset, of 
some more or less vivid antithesis to a state of civilisation 
providing for "art"? What I wanted, in essence, was the image 
of some perfectly humane community which was yet all in- 
capable of providing for it, and I had to take what my scant 
experience furnished me. I remember feeling meanwhile no 
drawback in this scantness, but a complete, an exquisite little 
adequacy, so that the presentation arrived at would quite have 
served its purpose, I think, had I not misled myself into nam- 
ing my place. To name a place, in fiction, is to pretend in 
some degree to represent itand I speak here of course but of 
the use of existing names, the only ones that carry weight. I 
wanted one that carried weight so at least I supposed; but 
obviously I was wrong, since my effect lay, so superficially, 
and could only lie, in the local type, as to which I had my 
handful of impressions. The particular local case was another 
matter, and I was to see again, after long years, the case into 
which, all recklessly, the opening passages of "Roderick Hud- 
son" put their foot. I was to have nothing then, on the spot, 
to sustain me but the rather feeble plea that I had not freA 
tended so very much to "do" Northampton, Mass. The plea 
was charmingly allowed, but nothing could have been more 
to the point than the way in which, in such a situation, the 
whole question of the novelist's "doing," with its eternal 
wealth, or in other words its eternal torment of interest, once 
more came up. He embarks, rash adventurer, under the star 



o "representation," and is pledged thereby to remember that 
the art of interesting us in things once these things are the 
right ones for his case can only be the art of representing 
them. This relation to them, for invoked interest, involves 
his accordingly "doing"; and it is for him to settle with his 
intelligence what that variable process shall commit him to. 
Its fortune rests primarily, beyond doubt, on somebody's 
having, under suggestion, a sense for it even the reader will 
do, on occasion, when the writer, as so often happens, com- 
pletely falls out. The way in which this sense has been, or has 
not been, applied constitutes, at all events, in respect to any 
fiction, the very ground of critical appreciation. Such appre- 
ciation takes account, primarily, of the thing, in the case, to 
have been done, and I now see what, for the first and second 
chapters of "Roderick," that was. It was a peaceful, rural New 
England community quelconque it was not, it was under no 
necessity of being, Northampton, Mass. But one nestled, 
technically, in those days, and with yearning, in the great 
shadow of Balzac; his august example, little as the secret 
might ever be guessed, towered for me over the scene; so that 
what was clearer than anything else was how, if it was a 
question of Saumur, of Limoges, of Guerande, he "did" 
Saumur, did Limoges, did Guerande. I remember how, in 
my feebler fashion, I yearned over the preliminary presenta- 
tion of my small square patch of the American scene, and yet 
was not sufficiently on my guard to see how easily his high 
practice might be delusive for my case. Balzac talked of 
Nemours and Provins: therefore why shouldn't one, with 
fond fatuity, talk of almost the only small American mile de 
province of which one had happened to lay up, long before, a 
pleased vision? The reason was plain: one was not in the 
least, in one's prudence, emulating his systematic closeness. It 
didn't confuse the question either that he would verily, after 
all, addressed as he was to a due density in his material, have 
found little enough in Northampton, Mass, to tackle. He 


tackled no group of appearances, no presented face of the so- 
cial organism (conspicuky thus attending it), but to make 
something of it. To name it simply and not in some degree 
tackle it would have seemed to him an act reflecting on his 
general course the deepest dishonour. Therefore it was that, 
as the moral of these many remarks, I "named," under his 
contagion, when I was really most conscious of not being held 
to it; and therefore it was, above all, that for all the effect of 
representation I was to achieve, I might have let the occasion 
pass. A "fancy" indication would have served my turn except 
that I should so have failed perhaps of a pretext for my present 

Since I do insist, at all events, I find this ghostly interest 
perhaps even more reasserted for me by the questions begotten 
within the very covers of the book, those that wander and idle 
there as in some sweet old overtangled walled garden, a safe 
paradise of self-criticism. Here it is that if there be air for it 
to breathe at all, the critical question swarms, and here it is, 
in particular, that one of the happy hours of the painter's long 
day may strike. I speak of the painter in general and of his 
relation to the old picture, the work of his hand, that has been 
lost to sight and that, when found again, is put back on the 
easel for measure of what time and the weather may, in the 
interval, have done to it. Has it too fatally faded, has it black- 
ened or "sunk," or otherwise abdicated, or has it only, blest 
thought, strengthened, for its allotted duration, and taken up, 
in its degree, poor dear brave thing, some shade of the all 
appreciable, yet all indescribable grace that we know as pic- 
torial "tone"? The anxious artist has to wipe it over, in the 
first place, to see; he has to "clean it up," say, or to varnish it 
anew, or at the least to place it in a light, for any right judg- 
ment of its aspect or its worth. But the very uncertainties 
themselves yield a thrill, and if subject and treatment, working 
together, have had their felicity, the artist, the prime creator, 
may find a strange charm in this stage of the connexion. It 



helps him to live back into a forgotten state, into convictions, 
credulities too early spent perhaps, it breathes upon the dead 
reasons of things, buried as they are in the texture of the 
work, and makes them revive, so that the actual appearances 
and the old motives fall together once more, and a lesson and 
a moral and a consecrating final light are somehow disen- 

All this, I mean of course, if the case will wonderfully take 
any such pressure, if the work doesn't break down under even 
such mild overhauling. The author knows well enough how 
easily that may happen which he in fact frequently enough 
sees it do. The old reasons then are too dead to revive; they 
were not, it is plain, good enough reasons to live. The only 
possible relation of the present mind to the thing is to dismiss 
it altogether. On the other hand, when it is not dismissed as 
the only detachment is the detachment of aversion the cre- 
ative intimacy is reaffirmed, and appreciation, critical appre- 
hension, insists on becoming as active as it can. Who shall 
say, granted this, where it shall not begin and where it shall 
consent to end? The painter who passes over his old sunk 
canvas the wet sponge that shows him what may still come 
out again makes his criticism essentially active. When having 
seen, while his momentary glaze remains, that the canvas has 
kept a few buried secrets, he proceeds to repeat the process 
with due care and with a bottle of varnish and a brush, he is 
"living back," as I say, to the top of his bent, is taking up the 
old relation, so workable apparently, yet, and there is nothing 
-logically to stay him from following it all the way. I have felt 
myself then, on looking over past productions, the painter 
making use again and again of the tentative wet sponge. The 
sunk surface has here and there, beyond doubt, refused to 
respond: the buried secrets, the intentions, are buried too deep 
to rise again, and were indeed, it would appear, not much 
worth the burying. No so, however, when the moistened can- 
vas does obscurely flush arid when resort to the varnish-bottle 



is thereby immediately indicated. The simplest figure for my 
revision of this present array of earlier, later, larger, smaller, 
canvases, is to say that I have achieved it by the very aid of the 
varnish-bottle. It is true of them throughout that, in words I 
have had occasion to use in another connexion (where too I 
had revised with a view to "possible amendment of form and 
enhancement of meaning"), I have "nowhere scrupled to re- 
write a sentence or a passage on judging it susceptible of a 

better turn." 

To re-read "Roderick Hudson" was to find one remark 
so promptly and so urgently prescribed that I could at once 
only take it as pointing almost too stern a moral. It stared 
me in the face that the time-scheme of the story is quite 
inadequate, and positively to that degree that the fault but 
just fails to wreck it. The thing escapes, I conceive, with 
its life: the effect sought is fortunately more achieved than 
missed, since the interest of the subject bears down, auspi- 
ciously dissimulates, this particular flaw in the treatment. 
Everything occurs, none the less, too punctually and moves 
too fast: Roderick's disintegration, a gradual process, and 
of which the exhibitional interest is exactly that it is grad- 
ual and occasional, and thereby traceable and watchable, 
swallows two years in a mouthful., proceeds quite not by 
years, but by weeks and months, and thus renders the whole 
view the disservice of appearing to present him as a morbidly 
special case. The very claim of the fable is naturally that 
he is special, that his great gift makes and keeps him highly 
exceptional; but that is not for a moment supposed to pre- 
clude his appearing typical (of the general type) as well; for 
the fictive hero successfully appeals to us only as an eminent 
instance, as eminent as we like, of our own conscious kind. 
My mistake on Roderick's behalf and not in the least of 
conception, but of composition and expression is that, at 
the rate at which he falls to pieces, he seems to place him- 
self beyond our understanding and our sympathy. These 



are not our rates, we say; we ourselves certainly, under like 
pressure,for what is it after all? would make more of 
a fight. We conceive going to pieces nothing is easier, 
since we see people do it, one way or another, all round 
us; but this young man must either have had less of the 
principle of development to have had so much of the prin- 
ciple of collapse, or less of the principle of collapse to have 
had so much of the principle of development. "On the 
basis of so great a weakness," one hears the reader say, 
"where was your idea of the interest? On the basis of so 
great an interest, where is the provision for so much weak- 
ness?" One feels indeed, in the light of this challenge, on 
how much too scantly projected and suggested a field poor 
Roderick and his large capacity for ruin are made to turn 
round. It has all begun too soon, as I say, and too simply, 
and the determinant function attributed to Christina Light, 
the character of well-nigh sole agent of his catastrophe that 
this unforunate young woman has forced upon her, fails to 
commend itself to our sense of truth and proportion. 

It was not, however, that I was at ease on this score even 
in the first fond good faith of composition; I felt too, all 
the while, how many more ups and downs, how many more 
adventures and complications my young man would have 
had to know, how much more experience it would have 
taken, in short, either to make him go under or to make 
him triumph. The greater complexity, the superior truth, 
was all more or less present to me; only the question was, 
too dreadfully, how make it present to the reader? How 
boil down so many facts in the alembic, so that the distilled 
result, the produced appearance, should have intensity, lucid- 
ity, brevity, beauty, all the merits required for my effect? 
How, when it was already so difficult, as I found, to pro- 
ceed even as I was proceeding? It didn't help, alas, it only 
maddened, to remember that Balzac would have known 
how, and would have yet asked no additional credit for it. 


All tlie difficulty I could dodge still struck me, at any rate, 
as leaving more than enough; and yet I was already con- 
sciously in presence, here, of the most interesting question 
the artist has to consider. To give the image and the sense 
of certain things while still keeping them subordinate to his 
plan, keeping them in relation to matters more immediate 
and apparent, to give all the sense, in a word, without all 
the substance or all the surface, and so to summarise and 
foreshorten, so to make values both rich and sharp, that the 
mere procession of items and profiles is not only, for the 
occasion, superseded, but is, for essential quality, almost "com- 
promised" such a case of delicacy proposes itself at every 
turn to the painter of life who wishes both to treat his 
chosen subject and to confine his necessary picture. It is 
only by doing such things that art becomes exquisite, and 
it is only by positively becoming exquisite that it keeps clear 
of becoming vulgar, repudiates the coarse industries that 
masquerade in its name. This eternal time-question is ac- 
cordingly* for the novelist* always there and always 1 for- 
midable; always insisting on the effect of the great lapse and 
passage, of the "dark backward and abysm," by the terms 
of truth, and on the effect of compression, of composition 
and form, by the terms of literary arrangement. It is really 
a business to terrify all but stout hearts into abject omission 
and mutilation, though the terror would indeed be more 
general were the general consciousness of the difficulty 
greater. It is not by consciousness of difficulty, in truth, 
that the story-teller is mostly ridden; so prodigious a num- 
ber of stories would otherwise scarce get themselves (shall 
it be called?) "told." None was ever very well told, I 
think, under the law of mere elimination inordinately as 
that device appears in many quarters to be depended on. 
I remember doing my best not to be reduced to it for 
"Roderick," at the same time that I did so helplessly and 
consciously beg a thousand questions. What I clung to as 



my principle of simplification was the precious truth that 
I was dealing, after all, essentially with an Action, and that 
no action, further, was ever made historically vivid without 
a certain factitious compactness; though this logic indeed 
opened up horizons and abysses of its own. But into these 
we must plunge on some other occasion. 

It was at any rate under an admonition or two fished out 
of their depths that I must have tightened my hold of the 
remedy afforded, such as it was, for the absence of those 
more adequate illustrations of Roderick's character and his- 
tory. Since one was dealing with an Action one might bor- 
row a scrap of the Dramatist's all-in-all, his intensity 
which the novelist so often ruefully envies him as a fortune 
in itself* The amount of illustration I could allow to the 
grounds of my young man's disaster was unquestionably 
meagre, but I might perhaps make it lively; I might pro- 
duce illusion if I should be able to achieve intensity. It was 
for that I must have tried, I now see, with such art as I 
could command; but I make out in another quarter above 
all what really saved me. My subject, all blissfully, in face 
of difficulties, had defined itself and this in spite of the title 
of the book as not directly, in the least, my young sculp- 
tor's adventure. This it had been but indirectly, being all the 
while in essence and in final effect another man's, his friend's 
and patron's, view and experience of him. One's luck wa$ 
to have felt one's subject right whether instinct or calcu- 
lation, in those dim days, most served; and the circumstance 
even amounts perhaps to a little lesson that when this has 
happily occurred faults may show, faults may disfigure, and 
yet not upset the work. It remains in equilibrium by hav- 
ing found its centre, the point of command of all the rest. 
From this centre the subject has been treated, from this 
centre the interest has spread, and so, whatever else it may 
do or may not do, the thing has acknowledged a prin- 
ciple of composition and contrives at least to hang together* 


We sec in such a case why it should so hang; we escape 
that dreariest displeasure it is open to experiments in this 
general order to inflict, the sense of any hanging-together 
precluded as by the very terms of the case. 

The centre of interest throughout "Roderick" is in Row- 
land Mallet's consciousness, and the drama is the very 
drama of that consciousness which I had of course to 
make sufficiently acute in order to enable it, like a set and 
lighted scene, to hold the play. By making it acute, mean- 
while, one made its own movement or rather, strictly, 
its movement in the particular connexion interesting; this 
movement really being quite the stuff of one's thesis. It 
had, naturally, Rowland's consciousness, not to be too acute 
which would have disconnected it and made it super- 
human : the beautiful little problem was to keep it connected, 
connected intimately, with the general human exposure, and 
thereby bediramed and befooled and bewildered, anxious, 
restless, fallible, and yet to endow it with such intelligence 
that the appearances reflected in it, and constituting together 
there the situation and the "story," should become by that 
fact intelligible. Discernible from the first the joy of such 
a "job" as this making of his relation to everything involved 
a sufficiently limited, a sufficient 1 " Bathetic, tragic, comic, ironic, 
personal state to be thoroughly natural, and yet at the same 
time a sufficiently clear medium to represent a whole. This 
whole was to be the sum of what "happened" to him, or in 
other words his total adventure; but as what happened to 
him was above all to feel certain things happening to others, 
to Roderick, to Christina, to Mary Garland, to Mrs. Hudson, 
to the Cavaliere, to the Prince, so the beauty of the construc- 
tional game was to preserve in everything its especial value 
for him. The ironic effect of his having fallen in love with 
the girl who is herself in love with Roderick, though he is 
unwitting, at the time, of that secret the conception of this 
last irony, I must add, has remained happier than my exe- 



cution of it; which should logically have involved the read- 
er's being put into position to take more closely home the 
impression made by Mary Garland. The ground has not 
been laid for it, and when that is the case one builds all 
vainly in the air: one patches up one's superstructure, one 
paints it in the prettiest colours, one hangs fine old tapestry 
and rare brocade over its window-sills, one flies emblazoned 
banners from its roof the building none the less totters and 
refuses to stand square. 

It is not really wor\ed-m that Roderick himself could have 
pledged his faith in such a quarter, much more at such a 
crisis, before leaving America: and that weakness, clearly, 
produces a limp in the whole march of the fable. Just so, 
though there was no reason on earth (unless I except one, 
presently to be mentioned) why Rowland should not, at 
Northampton, have conceived a passion, or as near an ap- 
proach to one as he was capable of, for a remarkable young 
woman there suddenly dawning on his sight, a particular 
fundamental care was required for the vivification of that 
possibility. The care, unfortunately, has not been skilfully 
enough taken, in spite of the later patching-up of the girl's 
figure. We fail to accept it, on the actual showing, as that 
of a young person irresistible at any moment, and above all 
irresistible at a moment of the liveliest other preoccupation, 
as that of the weaver of (even the highly conditioned) spell 
that the narrative imputes to her. The spell of attraction 
is cast upon young men by young women in all sorts of 
ways, and the novel has no more constant office than to 
remind us of that. But Mary Garland's way doesn't, in- 
dubitably, convince us; any more than we are truly con- 
vinced, I think, that Rowland's destiny, or say his nature, 
would have made him accessible at the same hour to two 
quite distinct commotions, each a very deep one, of his 
whole personal economy. Rigidly viewed, each of these up* 
heavals of his sensibility must have been exclusive of other 


upheavals, yet the reader is asked to accept them as work- 
ing together. They are different vibrations, but the whole 
sense of the situation depicted is that they should each have 
been o the strongest, too strong to walk hand in hand. 
Therefore it is that when, on the ship, under the stars, 
Roderick suddenly takes his friend into the confidence of 
his engagement, we instinctively disallow the friend's title 
to discomfiture. The whole picture presents him as for the 
time on the mounting wave, exposed highly enough, no doubt, 
to a hundred discomfitures, but least exposed to that one. 
The damage to verisimilitude is deep. 

The difficulty had been from the first that I required my 
antithesis my antithesis to Christina Light, one of the main 
terms of the subject. One is ridden by the law that anti- 
theses, to be efficient, shall be both direct and complete. 
Directness seemed to fail unless Mary should be, so to speak, 
"plain," Christina being essentially so "coloured"; and com- 
pleteness seemed to fail unless she too should have her po- 
tency. She could moreover, by which I mean the antithetic 
young woman could, perfectly have had it; only success 
would have been then in the narrator's art to attest it. 
Christina's own presence and action are, on the other hand, 
I think, all firm ground; the truth probably being that 
the ideal antithesis rarely does "come off," and that it has 
to content itself for the most part with a strong term and 
a weak term, and even then to feel itself lucky. If one of 
the terms is strong, that perhaps may pass, in the most 
difficult of the arts, for a triumph. I remember at all events 
feeling, toward the end of "Roderick," that the Princess 
Casamassima had been launched, that, wound-up with the 
right silver key, she would go on a certain time by the mo- 
tion communicated; thanks to which I knew the pity, the 
real pang of losing sight of her. I desired as in no other 
such case I can recall to preserve, to recover the vision; 
and I have seemed to myself in re-reading the book quite 



to understand why. The multiplication o touches had pro- 
duced even more life than the subject required, and that 
life, in other conditions, in some other prime relation, would 
still have somehow to be spent. Thus one would watch for 
her and waylay her at some turn of the road to come 
all that was to be needed was to give her time. This I did 
in fact, meeting her again and taking her up later on. 



"THE AMERICAN," which I had begun in Paris early in 
the winter of 1875-76, made its first appearance in "The 
Atlantic Monthly" in June of the latter year and continued 
there, from month to month, till May of the next. It started 
on its course while much was still unwritten, and there again 
come back to me, with this remembrance, the frequent haunt- 
ings and alarms of that comparatively early time; the habit 
of wondering what would happen if anything should "hap- 
pen," if one should break one's arm by an accident or make 
a long illness or suffer, in body, mind, fortune, any other 
visitation involving a loss of time. The habit of apprehen- 
sion became of course in some degree the habit of confidence 
that one would pull through, that, with opportunity enough, 
grave interruption never yet had descended, and that a spe- 
cial Providence, in short, despite the sad warning of Thack- 
eray's "Denis Duval" and of Mrs. Gaskell's "Wives and Daugh- 
ters" (that of Stevenson's "Weir of Hermiston" was yet to 
come) watches over anxious novelists condemned to the 
economy of serialisation. I make myself out in memory as 
having at least for many months and in many places given 
my Providence much to do: so great a variety of scenes of 
labour, implying all so much renewal of application, glim- 
mer out of the book as I now read it over. And yet as the 
faded interest of the whole episode becomes again mildly 
vivid what I seem most to recover is, in its pale spectrality, 
a degree of joy, an eagerness on behalf of my recital, that 


must recklessly enough have overridden anxieties of every 
sort, including any view of inherent difficulties. 

I seem to recall no other like connexion in which the case 
was met, to my measure, by so fond a complacency, in which 
my subject can have appeared so apt to take care of itself. 
I see now that I might all the while have taken much bet- 
ter care of it; yet, as I had at the time no sense of neglect- 
ing it, neither acute nor rueful solicitude, I can but speculate 
all vainly to-day on the oddity of my composure. I ask my- 
self indeed if, possibly, recognising after I was launched the 
danger of an inordinate leak since the ship has truly a hole 
in its side more than sufficient to have sunk it I may not 
have managed, as a counsel of mere despair, to stop my ears 
against the noise of waters and pretend to myself I was 
afloat; being indubitably, in any case, at sea, with no har- 
bour of refuge till the end of my serial voyage. If I succeeded 
at all in that emulation (in another sphere) of the pursued 
ostrich I must have succeeded altogether; must have buried 
my head in the sand and there found beatitude. The expla- 
nation of my enjoyment of it, no doubt, is that I was more 
than commonly enamoured of my idea, and that I believed 
it, so trusted, so imaginatively fostered, not less capable of 
limping to its goal on three feet than on one. The lameness 
might be what it would: I clearly, for myself, felt the thing 
go which is the most a dramatist can ever ask of his drama; 
and I shall here accordingly indulge myself in speaking first 
of how, superficially, it did so proceed; explaining then what 
I mean by its practical dependence on a miracle. 

It had come to me, this happy, halting view of aa inter- 
esting case, abruptly enough, some years before: I recall 
sharply the felicity of the first glimpse, though I forget the 
accident of thought that produced it. I recall that I was 
seated in an American "horse-car" when I found myself, 
of a sudden, considering with enthusiasm, as the theme of 
a "story," the situation, in another country and an aristo- 



cratic society, of some robust but insidiously beguiled and 
betrayed, some cruelly wronged, compatriot: the point being 
in especial that he should suffer at the hands of persons 
pretending to represent the highest possible civilisation and 
to be of an order in every way superior to his own. What 
would he "do" in that predicament, how would he right 
himself, or how, failing a remedy, would he conduct him- 
self under his wrong? This would be the question involved, 
and I remember well how, having entered the horse-car 
without a dream of it, I was presently to leave that vehicle 
in full possession of my answer. He would behave in the 
most interesting manner it would all depend on that; 
stricken, smarting, sore, he would arrive at his just vindi* 
cation and then would fail of all triumphantly and all vul- 
garly enjoying it. He would hold his revenge and cherish it 
and feel its sweetness, and then in the very act of forcing 
it home would sacrifice it in disgust. He would let them 
go, in short, his haughty contemners, even while feeling 
them, with joy, in his power, and he would obey, in so doing, 
one of the large and easy impulses generally characteristic 
of his type. He wouldn't "forgive" that would have, in 
the case, no application; he would simply turn, at the su- 
preme moment, away, the bitterness of his personal loss 
yielding to the very force of his aversion. All he would 
have at the end would be therefore just the moral conve- 
nience, indeed the moral necessity, of his practical, but quite 
unappreciated, magnanimity; and one's last view of him 
would be that of a strong man indifferent to his strength 
and too wrapped in fine, too wrapped above all in other 
and intenser, reflexions for the assertion of his "rights." 
This last point was of the essence and constituted in fact 
the subject: there would be no subject at all, obviously, or 
simply the commonest of the common, if my gentleman 
should enjoy his advantage. I was charmed with my idea, 
which would take, however* much working out; and prc- 


cisely because it had so much to give, I think, must I have 
dropped it for the time into the deep well of unconscious 
cerebration: not without the hope, doubtless, that it might 
eventually emerge from that reservoir, as one had already 
known the buried treasure to come to light, with a firm iri- 
descent surface and a notable increase of weight. 

This resurrection then took place in Paris, where I was at 
the moment living, and in December, 1875; my good fortune 
being apparently that Paris had ever so promptly offered 
me, and with an immediate directness at which I now mar- 
vel (since I had come back there, after earlier visitations, 
but a few weeks before), everything that was needed to make 
my conception concrete. I seem again at this distant day 
fo see it become so quickly and easily, quite as if filling 
itself with life in that air. The objectivity it had wanted it 
promptly put on, and if the questions had been, with the 
usual intensity, for my hero and his crisis the whole for- 
midable list, the who? the what? the where? the when? 
the why? the how? they gathered their answers in the 
cold shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, for fine reasons, very 
much as if they had been plucking spring flowers for the 
weaving of a frolic garland. I saw from one day to another 
my particular cluster of circumstances, with the life of the 
splendid city playing up in it like a flashing fountain in 
a marble basin. The very splendour seemed somehow to 
witness and intervene; it was important for the effect of my 
friend's discomfiture that it should take place on a high and 
lighted stage, and that his original ambition, the project 
exposing him, should have sprung from beautiful and noble 
suggestions those that, at certain hours and under certain 
impressions, we feel the many-tinted medium by the Seine 
irresistibly to communicate. It was all charmingly simple, 
this conception, and the current must have gushed, full and 
clear, to my imagination, from the moment Christopher New- 
man rose before me, on a perfect day of the divine Paris 


spring, in the great gilded Salon Carre o the Louvre. Under 
this strong contagion of the place he would, by the happi- 
est of hazards, meet his old comrade, now initiated and domi- 
ciled; after which the rest would go of itself. If he was to 
be wronged he would be wronged with just that conspicuity, 
with his felicity at just that pitch and with the highest aggra- 
vation of the general effect of misery mocked at. Great and 
gilded the whole trap set, in fine, for his wary freshness 
and into which it would blunder upon its fate. I have, I 
confess, no memory of a disturbing doubt; once the man 
himself was imaged to me (and that germination is a process 
almost always untraceable) he must have walked into the 
situation as by taking a pass-key from his pocket. 

But what then meanwhile would be the affront one would 
see him as most feeling? The affront of course done him 
as a lover; and yet not that done by his mistress herself, 
since injuries of this order are the stalest stuff of romance. 
I was not to have him jilted, any more than I was to have 
him successfully vindictive: both his wrong and his right 
would have been in these cases of too vulgar a type. I 
doubtless even then felt that the conception of Paris as the 
consecrated scene of rash infatuations and bold bad treach- 
eries belongs, in the Anglo-Saxon imagination, to the infancy 
of art. The right renovation of any such theme as that 
would place it in Boston or at Cleveland, at Hartford or at 
Utica give it some local connexion in which we had not 
already had so much of it. No, I should make my heroine 
herself, if heroine there was to be, an equal victim- just 
as Romeo was not less the sport of fate for not having been 
interestedly sacrificed by Juliet; and to this end I had but 
to imagine "great people" again, imagine my hero con- 
fronted and involved with them, and impute to them, with 
a fine free hand, the arrogance and cruelty, the tortuous be- 
haviour, in given conditions, of which great people have 
been historically so often capable. But as this was the light 



in which they were to show, so the essence of the matter 
would be that he should at the right moment find them in 
his power, and so the situation would reach its highest 
interest with the question of his utilisation of that knowl- 
edge. It would be here, in the possession and application 
of his power, that he would come out strong and would so 
deeply appeal to our sympathy. Here above all it really was, 
however, that my conception unfurled, with the best con- 
science in the world, the emblazoned flag of romance; which 
venerable ensign it had, though quite unwittingly, from the 
first and at every point sported in perfect good faith. I had 
been plotting arch-romance without knowing it, just as I 
began to write it that December day without recognising it 
and just as I all serenely and blissfully pursued the process from 
month to month and from place to place; just as I now, in 
short, reading the book over, find it yields me no interest and 
no reward comparable to the fond perception of this truth. 

The thing is consistently, consummately and I would 
fain really make bold to say charmingly romantic; and 
all without intention, presumption, hesitation, contrition. The 
effect is equally undesigned and unabashed, and I lose my- 
self, at this late hour, I am bound to add, in a certain sad 
envy of the free play of so much unchallenged instinct. 
One would like to woo back such hours of fine precipita- 
tion. They represent to the critical sense which the exercise 
of one's whole faculty has, with time, so inevitably and so 
thoroughly waked up, the happiest season of surrender to the 
invoked muse and the projected fable: the season of images 
so free and confident and ready that they brush questions 
aside and disport themselves, like the artless schoolboys of 
Gray's beautiful Ode, in all the ecstasy of the ignorance 
attending them. The time doubtless comes soon enough 
when questions, as I call them, rule the roost and when the 
little victim, to adjust Gray's term again to the creature of 
frolic fancy, does n't dare propose a gambol till tb^v have all 



(like a board of trustees discussing a new outlay) sat on the 
possibly scandalous case. I somehow feel, accordingly, that 
it was lucky to have sacrificed on this particular altar while 
one still could; though it is perhaps droll in a yet higher 
degree to have done so not simply because one was guile- 
less, but even quite under the conviction, in a general way, 
that, since no "rendering" of any object and no painting 
of any picture can take effect without some form of reference 
and control, so these guarantees could but reside in a high 
probity of observation. I must decidedly have supposed, all 
the while, that I was acutely observing and with a blest 
absence of wonder at its being so^ easy. Let me certainly at 
present rejoice in that absence; for I ask myself how with- 
out it I could have written "The American." 

Was it indeed meanwhile my excellent conscience that 
kept the charm as unbroken as it appears to me, in rich 
retrospect, to have remained? or is it that I suffer the 
mere influence of remembered, of associated places and hours, 
all acute impressions, to palm itself off as the sign of a 
finer confidence than I could justly claim? It is a pleasure 
to perceive how again and again the shrunken depths of 
old work yet permit themselves to be sounded or even if 
rather terrible the image "dragged": the long pole of mem- 
ory stirs and rummages the bottom, and we fish up such 
fragments and relics of the submerged life and the extinct 
consciousness as tempt us to piece them together. My win- 
dows looked into the Rue de Luxembourg since then 
meagrely re-named Rue Cambon and the particular light 
Parisian click of the small cab-horse on the clear asphalt, 
with its sharpness of detonation between the high houses, 
makes for the faded page to-day a sort of interlineation of 
sound. This sound rises to a martial clatter at the moment 
a troop of cuirassiers charges down the narrow street, each 
morningj to file, directly opposite my house, through the plain 
portal of the barracks occupying part of the vast domain at- 



tached in a rearward manner to one of the Ministeres that 
front on the Place Vendome; an expanse marked, along a 
considerable stretch of the street, by one of those high painted 
and administratively-placarded garden walls that form deep, 
vague, recurrent notes in the organic vastness of the city. I 
have but to re-read ten lines to recall my daily effort not to 
waste time in hanging over the window-bar for a sight of 
the cavalry the hard music of whose hoofs so directly and 
thrillingly appealed; an effort that inveterately failed and a 
trivial circumstance now dignified, to my imagination, I may 
add, by the fact that the fruits of this weakness, the various 
items of the vivid picture, so constantly recaptured, must have 
been in themselves suggestive and inspiring, must have been 
rich strains, in their way, of the great Paris harmony. I have 
ever, in general, found it difficult to write of places under too 
immediate an impression the impression that prevents stand- 
ing off and allows neither space nor time for perspective. The 
image has had for the most part to be dim if the reflexion 
was to be, as is proper for a reflexion, both sharp and quiet: 
one has a horror, I think, artistically, of agitated reflexions. 
Perhaps that is why the novel, after all, was to achieve, 
as it went on, no great certainly no very direct trans- 
fusion of the immense overhanging presence. It had to save 
as it could its own life, to keep tight hold of the tenuous 
silver thread, the one hope for which was that it shouldn't 
be tangled or clipped. This earnest grasp of the silver thread 
was doubtless an easier business in other places though as 
I remount the stream of composition I see it faintly coloured 
again: with the bright protection of the Normandy coast 
(I worked away a few weeks at Etretat) ; with the stronger 
glow of southernmost France, breaking in during a stay at 
Bayonne; then with the fine historic and other "psychic" sub- 
stance of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a purple patch of terraced 
October before returning to Paris. There comes after that the 
memory of a last brief intense invocation, of the enclosing 



scene, of the pious effort to unwind my tangle, with a firm 
hand, in the very light (that light of high, narrowish French 
windows in old rooms, the light somehow, as one always feels> 
of "style" itself) that had quickened my original vision. I was 
to pass over to London that autumn; which was a reason the 
more for considering the matter the matter of Newman's final 
predicament with due intensity: to let a loose end dangle 
over into alien air would so fix upon the whole, I strenuously 
felt, the dishonour of piecemeal composition. Therefore I 
strove to finish first in a small dusky hotel of the Rive Gauche, 
where, though the windows again were high, the days were 
dim and the crepuscular court, domestic, intimate, "quaint," 
testified to ancient manners almost as if it had been that of 
Balzac's Maison Vauquer in "Le Pere Goriot": and then once 
more in the Rue de Luxembourg, where a black-framed Em- 
pire portrait-medallion, suspended in the centre of each white 
panel of my almost noble old salon, made the coolest, dis- 
creetest, most measured decoration, and where, through case- 
ments op^n to the last mildness of the year, a belated Saint 
Martin's summer, the tale was taken up afresh by the charm- 
ing light click and clatter, that sound as of the thin, quick, 
quite feminine surface-breathing of Paris, the shortest of 
rhythms for so huge an organism. 

I shall not tell whether I did there bring my book to a 
c l ose an d indeed I shrink, for myself, from putting the ques- 
tion to the test of memory. I follow it so far, the old urgent 
ingenious business, and then I lose sight of it: from which 
I infer all exact recovery of the matter failing that I did 
not in the event drag over the Channel a lengthening chain; 
which would have been detestable. I reduce to the absurd 
perhaps, however, by that small subjective issue, any undue 
measure of the interest of this insistent recovery of what I 
have called attendant facts. There always has been, for the 
valid work of art, a history though mainly inviting, doubt- 
less, but to the curious critic, for whom such things grow up 



and are formed very much in the manner of attaching young 
lives and characters, those conspicuous cases of happy develop- 
ment as to which evidence and anecdote are always in order. 
The development indeed must be certain to have been happy, 
the life sincere, the character fine: the work of art, to create 
or repay critical curiosity, must in short have been very "valid" 
indeed. Yet there is on the other hand no mathematical meas- 
ure of that importance it may be a matter of widely-varying 
appreciation; and I am willing to grant, assuredly, that this 
interest, in a given relation, will nowhere so effectually 
kindle as on the artist's own part. And I am afraid that 
after all even his best excuse for it must remain the highly 
personal plea the joy of living over, as a chapter of ex- 
perience, the particular intellectual adventure. Here lurks 
an immense homage to the general privilege of the artist, 
to that constructive, that creative passion portentous words, 
but they are convenient the exercise of which finds so 
many an occasion for appearing to him the highest of 
human fortunes, the rarest boon of the gods. He values 
it, all sublimely and perhaps a little fatuously, for itself as 
the great extension, great beyond all others, of experience 
and of consciousness; with the toil and trouble a mere 
sun-cast shadow that falls, shifts and vanishes, the result 
of his living in so large a light. On the constant nameless 
felicity of this Robert Louis Stevenson has, in an admirable 
passage and as in so many other connexions, said the right 
word: that the partaker of the "life of art" who repines 
at the absence of the rewards, as they are called, of the pur- 
suit might surely be better occupied. Much rather should 
he endlessly wonder at his not having to pay half his 
substance for his luxurious immersion. He enjoys it, so 
to speak, without a tax; the effort of labour involved, the 
torment of expression, of which we have heard in our 
time so much, being after all but the last refinement of 
liis privilege. It may leave him weary and worn; but 



how, after his fashion, he will have lived! As if one were 
to expect at once freedom and ease! That silly safety is 
but the sign of bondage and forfeiture. Who can imagine 
free selection which is the beautiful, terrible whole of art 
without free difficulty? This is the very franchise of the 
city and high ambition of the citizen. The vision of the 
difficulty, as one looks back, bathes one's course in a golden 
glow by which the very objects along the road are trans- 
figured and glorified; so that one exhibits them to other eyes 
with aa elation possibly presumptuous. 

Since I accuse myself at all events of these complacencies 
I take advantage of them to repeat that I value, in my ret- 
rospect, nothing so much as the lively light on the romantic 
property of my subject that I had not expected to encounter. 
If in 'The American" I invoked the romantic association 
without malice prepense, yet with a production of the ro- 
mantic effect that is for myself unmistakeable, the occasion 
is of the best perhaps for penetrating a little the obscurity 
of that principle. By what art or mystery, what craft of 
selection, omission or commission, does a given picture of life 
appear to us to surround its theme, its figures and images, 
with the air of romance while another picture close beside 
it may affect us as steeping the whole matter in the element 
of reality? It is a question, no doubt, on the painter's part, 
very much more of perceived effect, effect after the fact, 
than of conscious design though indeed I have ever failed 
to see how a coherent picture of anything is producible save 
by a complex of fine measurements. The cause of the de- 
flexion, in one pronounced sense or the other, must lie deep, 
however; so that for the most part we recognise the char- 
acter of our interest only after the particular magic, as 
I say, has thoroughly operated and then in truth but if 
we be a bit critically minded, if we find our pleasure, that 
is, in these intimate appreciations (for which, as I am well 
aware, ninety-nine readers in a hundred have no use what- 



ever). The determining condition would at any rate seem 
so latent that one may well doubt if the full artistic con- 
sciousness ever reaches it; leaving the matter thus a case, 
ever, not of an author's plotting and planning and calculat- 
ing, but just of his feeling and seeing, of his conceiving, in 
a word, and of his thereby inevitably expressing himself, 
under the influence of one value or the other. These values 
represent different sorts and degrees of the communicable 
thrill, and I doubt if any novelist, for instance, ever proposed 
to commit himself to one kind or the other with as little 
mitigation as we are sometimes able to find for him. The 
interest is greatestthe interest of his genius, I mean, and 
of his general wealthwhen he commits himself in both 
directions; not quite at the same time or to the same effect, 
of course, but by some need of performing his whole possible 
revolution, by the law of some rich passion in him for 

Of the men of largest responding imagination before the 
human scene, of Scott, of Balzac, even of the coarse, com- 
prehensive, prodigious Zola, we feel, I think, that the de- 
flexion toward either quarter has never taken place; that 
neither the nature of the man's faculty nor the nature of 
his experience has ever quite determined it. His current 
remains therefore extraordinarily rich and mixed, washing 
us successively with the warm wave of the near and familiar 
and the tonic shock, as may be, of the far and strange. (In 
making which opposition I suggest not that the strange and 
the far are at all necessarily romantic: they happen to be 
simply the unknown, which is quite a different matter. The 
real represents to my perception the things we cannot pos- 
sibly not know, sooner or later, in one way or another; it 
being but one of the accidents of our hampered state, and 
one of the incidents of their quantity and number, that par- 
ticular instances have not yet come our way. The romantic 
stands, on the other hand, for the things that, with all the 

3 1 


facilties in the world, all the wealth and all the courage 
and all the wit and all the adventure, we never can directly 
know; the things that can reach us only through the beau- 
tiful circuit and subterfuge of our thought and our desire.) 
There have been, I gather, many definitions of romance, as 
a matter indispensably of boats, or of caravans, or of tigers, 
or of "historical characters," or of ghosts, or of forgers, or 
of detectives, or of beautiful wicked women, or of pistols 
and knives, but they appear for the most part reducible to 
the idea of the facing of danger, the acceptance of great 
risks for the fascination, the very love, of their uncertainty, 
the joy of success if possible and of battle in any case. This 
would be a fine formula if it bore examination; but it strikes 
me as weak and inadequate, as by no means covering the 
true ground and yet as landing us in strange confusions. 

The panting pursuit of danger is the pursuit of life itself, 
in which danger awaits us possibly at every step and faces 
us at every turn; so that the dream of an intenser experi- 
ence easily becomes rather some vision of a sublime secur- 
ity like that enjoyed on the flowery plains of heaven, where 
we may conceive ourselves proceeding in ecstasy from one 
prodigious phase and form of it to another. And if it be 
insisted that the measure of the type is then in the apprecia- 
tion of danger the sign of our projection of the real being 
the smallness of its dangers, and that of our projection of 
the romantic the hugeness, the mark of the distinction being 
in short, as they say of collars and gloves and shoes, the 
size and "number" of the danger this discrimination again 
surely fails, since it makes our difference not a difference 
of kind, which is what we want, but a difference only of 
degree, and subject by that condition to the indignity of a 
sliding scale and a shifting measure. There are immense 
and flagrant dangers that are but sordid and squalid ones, as 
we feel, tainting with their quality the very defiances they 
provoke; while there are common and covert ones, that 



"look like nothing" and that can be but inwardly and oc- 
cultly dealt with, which involve the sharpest hazards to life 
and honour and the highest instant decisions and intrepid- 
ities of action. It is an arbitrary stamp that keeps these lat- 
ter prosaic and makes the former heroic; and yet I should 
still less subscribe to a mere "subjective" division I mean 
one that would place the difference wholly in the temper 
of the imperilled agent. It would be impossible to have 
a more romantic temper than Flaubert's Madame Bovary, 
and yet nothing less resembles a romance than the record 
of her adventures. To classify it by that aspect the defini- 
tion of the spirit that happens to animate her is like set- 
tling the question (as I have seen it witlessly settled) by 
the presence or absence of "costume." Where again then 
does costume begin or end? save with the "run" of one 
or another sort of play? We must reserve vague labels for 
artless mixtures. 

The only general attribute of projected romance that I 
can see, the only one that fits all its cases, is the fact of 
the kind of experience with which it deals experience lib- 
erated, so to speak; experience disengaged, disembroiled, 
disencumbered, exempt from the conditions that we usually 
know to attach to it and, if we wish so to put the matter, 
drag upon it, and operating in a medium which relieves it, 
in a particular interest, of the inconvenience of a related, a 
measurable state, a state subject to all our vulgar commun- 
ities. The greatest intensity may so be arrived at evidently 
when the sacrifice of community, of the "related" sides 
of situations, has not been too rash. It must to this end 
not flagrantly betray itself; we must even be kept if possi- 
ble, for our illusion, from suspecting any sacrifice at all. 
The balloon of experience is in fact of course tied to the 
earth, and under that necessity we swing, thanks to a rope 
of remarkable length, in the more or less commodious car 
of the imagination; but it is by the rope we know where 



we are, and from the moment that cable is cut we are at 
large and unrelated: we only swing apart from the globe 
though remaining as exhilarated, naturally, as we like, 
especially when all goes well. The art of the romancer is, 
"for the fun of it, 5 ' insidiously to cut the cable, to cut it 
without our detecting him. What I have recognised then 
in "The American," much to my surprise and after long 
years, is that the experience here represented is the discon- 
nected and uncontrolled experience uncontrolled by our gen- 
eral sense of "the way things happen" which romance alone 
more or less successfully palms off on us. It is a case of 
Newman's own intimate experience all, that being my sub- 
ject, the thread of which, from beginning to end, is not 
once exchanged, however momentarily, for any other thread; 
and the experience of others concerning us, and concerning 
him, only so far as it touches him and as he recognises, 
feels or divines it. There is our general sense of the way 
things happen it abides with us indefeasibly, as readers 
o fiction, from the moment we demand that our fiction 
shall be intelligible; and there is our particular sense of 
the way they don't happen, which is liable to wake up un- 
less reflexion and criticism, in us, have been skilfully and 
successfully drugged. There are drugs enough, clearly it 
Is all a question of applying them with tact; in which case 
the way things don't happen may be artfully made to pass for 
the way things do. 

Amusing and even touching to me, I profess, at this time 
of day, the ingenuity (worthy, with whatever lapses, of 
a better cause) with which, on behalf of Newman's adven- 
ture, this hocus-pocus is attempted: the value of the in- 
stance not being diminished either, surely, by its having been 
attempted in such evident good faith. Yes, all is romantic 
to my actual vision here, and not least so, I hasten to add, 
the fabulous felicity of my candour. The way things hap- 
pen is frankly not the way in which they are represented 



as having happened, in Paris, to my hero: the situation 
I had conceived only saddled me with that for want of my 
invention of something better. The great house of Belle- 
garde, in a word, would, I now feel, given the circum- 
stances, given the whole of the ground, have comported 
Itself in a manner as different as possible from the manner 
to which my narrative commits it; of which truth, more- 
over, I am by no means sure that, in spite of what I have 
called my serenity, I had not all the while an uneasy sus- 
picion. I had dug in my path, alas, a hole into which I 
was destined to fall.1l was so possessed of my idea that 
Newman should be ill-used which was the essence of my 
subject that I attached too scant an importance to its fash- 
ion of coming about. Almost any fashion would serve, I 
appear to have assumed, that would give me my main 
chance for him; a matter depending not so much on the 
particular trick played him as on the interesting face pre- 
sented by him to any damnable trick. So* where I part comr 
pany with terra-fir ma is in making that projected, thai 
performed outrage so much more showy, dramatically speak- 
ing, than sound. Had I patched it up to a greater apparent 
soundness my own trick, artistically speaking, would have 
been played; I should have cut the cable without my read- 
er's suspecting it. I doubtless at the time, I repeat, believed 
I had taken my precautions; but truly they should have 
been greater, to impart the air of truth to the attitude 
that is first to the pomp and circumstance, and second to the 
queer falsity of the Bellegardes. 

They would positively have jumped then, the Bellegardes, 
at my rich and easy American, and not have "minded" in 
the least any drawback especially as, after all, given the 
pleasant palette from which I have painted him, there were 
few drawbacks to mind. My subject imposed on me a group 
of closely-allied persons animated by immense pretensions 
which was all very well, which might be full of the prom- 



ise of interest: only of interest felt most of all in the light 
of comedy and of irony. This, better understood, would 
have dwelt in the idea not in the least of their not finding 
Newman good enough for their alliance and thence being 
ready to sacrifice him, but in that of their taking with alac- 
rity everything he could give them, only asking for more 
and more, and then adjusting their pretensions and their pride 
to it with all the comfort in life. Such accommodation of 
the theory of a noble indifference to the practice of a deep 
avidity is the real note of policy in forlorn aristocracies and 
I meant of course that the Bellegardes should be virtually 
forlorn. The perversion of truth is by no means, I think, in 
the displayed acuteness of their remembrance of "who" and 
"what" they are, or at any rate take themselves for; since 
it is the misfortune of all insistence on "worldly" advantages 
and the situation of such people bristles at the best (by which 
I mean under whatever invocation of a superficial simplicity) 
with emphasis, accent, assumption to produce at times an 
effect of grossness. The picture of their tergiversation, at all 
events, however it may originally have seemed to me to 
hang together, has taken on this rococo appearance precisely 
because their preferred course, a thousand times preferred, 
would have been to haul him and his fortune into their boat 
under cover of night perhaps, in any case as quietly and 
with as little bumping and splashing as possible, and there 
accommodate him with the very safest and most convenient 
seat. Given Newman, given the fact that the thing consti- 
tutes itself organically as his adventure, that too might very 
well be a situation and a subject: only it wouldn't have 
been the theme of "The American" as the book stands, 
the theme to which I was from so early pledged. Since I 
had wanted a "wrong" this other turn might even have been 
arranged to give me that, might even have been arranged 
to meet my requirement that somebody or something should 
be "in his power" so delightfully; and with the signal effect. 


after all, of "defining" everything. (It is as difficult, I said 
above, to trace the dividing-line between the real and the 
romantic as to plant a milestone between north and south; 
but I am not sure an infallible sign of the latter is not this 
rank vegetation of the "power" of bad people that good get 
into, or vice versa. It is so rarely, alas, into our power that any 
one gets!) 

It is difficult for me to-day to believe that I had not, as 
my work went on, some shade of the rueful sense of my 
affront to verisimilitude; yet I catch the memory at least of 
no great sharpness, no true critical anguish, of remorse: 
an anomaly the reason of which ia fact now glimmers inter- 
estingly out. My concern, as I saw it, was to make and 
to keep Newman consistent; the picture of his consistency 
was all my undertaking, and the memory of that infatuation 
perfectly abides with me. He was to be the lighted figure, 
the others even doubtless to an excessive degree the woman 
who is made the agent of his discomfiture were to be the 
obscured; by which I should largely get the very effect 
most to be invoked, that of a generous nature engaged 
with forces, v/ith difficulties and dangers, that it but half 
understands. If Newman was attaching enough, I must have 
argued, his tangle would be sensible enough; for the interest 
of everything is all that it is his vision, his conception, his 
interpretation: at the window of his wide, quite sufficiently 
wide, consciousness we are seated, from that admirable posi- 
tion we "assist." He therefore supremely matters; all the 
rest matters only as he feels it, treats it, meets it. A beautiful 
infatuation this, always, I think, the intensity of the creative 
effort to get into the skin of the creature; the act of personal 
possession of one being by another at its completest and 
with the high enhancement, ever, that it is, by the same 
stroke, the effort of the artist to preserve for his subject that 
unity, and for his use of it (in other words for the interest 
he desires to excite) that effect of a centre, which most econ- 



omise its value. Its value is most discussable when that 
economy has most operated; the content and the "importance" 
of a work of art are in fine wholly dependent on its being one: 
outside of which all prate of its representative character, its 
meaning and its bearing, its morality and humanity, are an 
impudent thing. Strong in that character, which is the con- 
dition of its really bearing witness at all, it is strong every 
way. So much remains true then on behalf of my instinct 
of multiplying the fine touches by which Newman should 
live and communicate life; and yet I still ask myself, I con- 
fess, what I can have made of "life," in my picture, at such 
a juncture as the interval offered as elapsing between my 
hero's first accepted state and the nuptial rites that are to 
crown it. Nothing here is in truth "offered" everything is 
evaded, and the effect of this, I recognise, is of the oddest. 
His relation to Madame de Cintre takes a great stride, but the 
author appears to view that but as a signal for letting it 
severely alone. 

I have been stupefied, in so thoroughly revising the book, 
to find, on turning a page, that the light in which he is pre- 
sented immediately after Madame de Bellegarde has conspic- 
uously introduced him to all her circle as her daughter's 
husband-to-be is that of an evening at the opera quite alone; 
as if he wouldn't surely spend his leisure, and especially 
those hours of it, with his intended. Instinctively, from that 
moment, one would have seen them intimately and, for 
one's interest, beautifully together; with some illustration of 
the beauty incumbent on the author. The truth was that at 
this point the author, all gracelessly, could but hold his breath 
and pass; lingering was too difficult he had made for him* 
self a crushing complication. Since Madame de Cintre was 
after all to "back out" every touch in the picture of her ap- 
parent loyalty would add to her eventual shame. She had 
acted in clear good faith, but how could I give the detail of 
an attitude, on her part, of which the foundation was yet 



so weak ? I preferred, as the minor evil, to shirk the attempt 
at the cost evidently of a signal loss of "charm"; and with 
this lady, altogether, I recognise, a light plank, too light a 
plank, is laid for the reader over a dark "psychological" abyss* 
The delicate clue to her conduct is never definitely placed in 
his hand: 1 must have liked verily to think it was delicate 
and to flatter myself it was to be felt with finger-tips rather 
than heavily tugged at. Here then, at any rate, is the roman- 
tic tout crachethe fine flower of Newman's experience 
blooming in a medium "cut off" and shut up to itself. I 
don't for a moment pronounce any spell proceeding from 
it necessarily the less workable, to a rejoicing ingenuity, for 
that; beguile the reader's suspicion of his being shut up, 
transform it for him into a positive illusion of the largest 
liberty, and the success will ever be proportionate to the 
chance. Only all this gave me, I make out, a great deal to 
look to, and I was perhaps wrong in thinking that Newman 
by himself, and for any occasional extra inch or so I might 
smuggle into his measurements, would see me through my 
wood. Anything more liberated and disconnected, to repeat 
my terms, than his prompt general profession, before the 
Tristrams, of aspiring to a "great" marriage, for example, 
could surely not well be imagined. I had to take that over 
with the rest of him and fit it in I had indeed to exclude 
the outer air. Still, I find on re-perusal that I have been able 
to breathe at least in my aching void; so that, clinging to 
my hero as to a tall, protective, good-natured elder brother 
in a rough place, I leave the record to stand or fall by his 
more or less convincing image. 



"THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY" was, like "Roderick Hudson," 
begun in Florence, during three months spent there in the 
spring of 1879. Like "Roderick" and like "The American," 
it had been designed for publication in "The Atlantic 
Monthly," where it began to appear in 1880. It differed from 
its two predecessors, however, in finding a course also open 
to it, from month to month, in "Macmillan's Magazine"; 
which was to be for me one of the last occasions of simul- 
taneous "serialisation" in the two countries that the chang- 
ing conditions of literary intercourse between England and 
the United States had up to then left unaltered. It is a long 
novel, and I was long in writing it; I remember being again 
much occupied with it, the following year, during a stay of 
several weeks made in Venice. I had rooms on Riva Schi- 
avoni, at the top of a house near the passage leading off 
to San Zaccaria; the waterside life, the wondrous lagoon 
spread before me, and the ceaseless human chatter of Venice 
came in at my windows, to which I seem to myself to 
have been constantly driven, in the fruitless fidget of com- 
position, as if to see whether, out in the blue channel, the 
ship of some right suggestion, of some better phrase, of 
the next happy twist of my subject, the next true touch 
for my canvas, mightn't come into sight. But I recall 
vividly enough that the response most elicited, in general, 
to these restless appeals was the rather grim admonition 
that romantic and historic sites, such as the land of Italy 



abounds in, offer the artist a questionable aid to concentra- 
tion when they themselves are not to be the subject of it. 
They are too rich in their own life and too charged with 
their own meanings merely to help him out with a lame 
phrase; they draw him away from his small question to 
their own greater ones; so that, after a little, he feels, while 
thus yearning toward them in his difficulty, as if he were 
asking an army of glorious veterans to help him to arrest a 
peddler who has given him the wrong change. 

There are pages of the book which, in the reading over, 
have seemed to make me see again the bristling curve of 
the wide Riva, the large colour-spots of the balconied houses 
and the repeated undulation of the little hunchbacked bridges, 
marked by the rise and drop again, with the wave, of fore- 
shortened clicking pedestrians. The Venetian footfall and 
the Venetian cry all talk there, wherever uttered, having 
the pitch of a call across the water come in once more at 
the window, renewing one's old impression of the delighted 
senses and the divided, frustrated mind. How can places 
that speak in general so to the imagination not give it, at 
the moment, the particular thing it wants? I recollect again 
and again, in beautiful places, dropping into that wonder- 
ment. The real truth is, I think, that they express, under 
this appeal, only too much more than, in the given case, 
one has use for; so that one finds one's self working less 
congruously, after all, so far as the surrounding picture is 
concerned, than in presence of the moderate and the neutral, 
to which we may lend something of the light of our vision. 
Such a place as Venice is too proud for such charities; 
Venice does n't borrow, she but all magnificently gives. We 
profit by that enormously, but to do so we must either be 
quite off duty or be on it in her service alone. Such, and 
so rueful, are these reminiscences; though on the whole, no 
doubt, one's book, and one's "literary effort" at large, were 
to be the better for them. Strangely fertilising, in the long 



run, does a wasted effort o attention often prove. It all 
depends on how the attention has been cheated, has been 
squandered. There are high-handed insolent frauds, and there 
are insidious sneaking ones, And there is, I fear, even on the 
most designing artist's part, always witless enough good faith, 
always anxious enough desire, to fail to guard him against 
their deceits. 

Trying to recover here, for recognition, the germ of my 
idea, I see that it must have consisted not at all in any con- 
ceit of a "plot," nefarious name, in any flash, upon the fancy, 
of a set of relations, or in any one of those situations that, 
by a logic of their own, immediately fall, for the fabulist, 
into movement, into a march or a rush, a patter of quick 
steps; but altogether in the sense of a single character, the 
character and aspect of a particular engaging young woman, 
to which all the usual elements of a "subject," certainly of a 
setting, were to need to be super-added. Quite as interest- 
ing as the young woman herself, at her best, do I find, 1 
must again repeat, this projection of memory upon the whole 
matter of the growth, in one's imagination, of some such 
apolo-gy for a motive. These are the fascinations of the 
fabulist's art, these lurking forces of expansion, these neces- 
sities of upspringing in the seed, these beautiful determina- 
tions, on the part of the idea entertained, to grow as tall as 
possible, to push into the light and the air and thickly flower 
there; and, quite as much, these fine possibilities of recover- 
ing, from some good standpoint on the ground gained, the 
intimate history of the business of retracing and reconstruct- 
ing its steps and stages. I have always fondly remembered 
a remark that I heard fall years ago from the lips of Ivan 
Turgenieif in regard to his own experience of the usual origin 
of the fictive picture. It began for him almost always with 
the vision of some person or persons, who hovered before him, 
soliciting him, as the active or passive figure, interesting him 
and appealing to him just as they were and by what they 



were. He saw them, in that fashion, as disponibles, saw them 
subject to the chances, the complications of existence, and 
saw them vividly, but then had to find for them the right 
relations, those that would most bring them out; to imagine, 
to invent and select and piece together the situations most use- 
ful and favourable to the sense of the creatures themselves, 
the complications they would be most likely to produce and to 

"To arrive at these things is to arrive at my c story,' " he 
said, "and that's the way I look for it. The result is that I'm 
often accused of not having 'story' enough. I seem to my- 
self to have as much as I need to show my people, to 
exhibit their relations with each other; for that is all my 
measure. If I watch them long enough I see them come 
together, I see them placed, I see them engaged in this or 
that act and in this or that difficulty. How they look and 
move and speak and behave, always in the setting I have 
found for them, is my account of them of which I dare 
say, alas, que cela manque souvent d 'architecture. But I would 
rather, I think, have too little architecture than too much 
when there's danger of its interfering with my measure 
of the truth. The French of course like more of it than 
I gi ve having by their own genius such a hand for it; 
and indeed one must give all one can. As for the origin of 
one's wind-blown germs themselves, who shall say, as you 
ask, where they come from? We have to go too far back, 
too far behind, to say. Isn't it all we can say that they 
come from every quarter of heaven, that they are there at 
almost any turn of the road? They accumulate, and we are 
always picking them over, selecting among them. They 
are the breath of life by which I mean that life, in its 
own way, breathes them upon us. They are so, in a man- 
ner prescribed and imposed floated into our minds by the 
current of life. That reduces to imbecility the vain critic's 
quarrel, so often, with one's subject, when he hasn't the 



wit to accept it. Will he point out then which other it 
should properly have been?his office being, essentially to 
point out. // en strait bien embarrasse. Ah, when he points 
out what I've done or failed to do with it, that's another mat- 
ter : there he's on his ground. I give him up my 'architecture/ " 
my distinguished friend concluded, "as much as he will" 

So this beautiful genius, and I recall with comfort the 
gratitude I drew from his reference to the intensity of sug- 
gestion that may reside in the stray figure, the unattached 
character, the image en disponibilite. It gave rne higher 
warrant than I seemed then to have met for just that blest 
habit of one's own imagination, the trick of investing some 
conceived or encountered individual, some brace or group 
of individuals, with the germinal property and authority. I 
was myself so much more antecedently conscious of my 
figures than of their setting a too preliminary, a prefer- 
ential interest in which struck me as in general such a put- 
ting of the cart before the horse. I might envy, though 
I couldn't emulate, the imaginative writer so constituted as 
to see his fable first and to make out its agents afterwards: 
I could think so little of any fable that it didn't need its 
agents positively to launch it; I could think so little of any 
situation that didn't depend for its interest on the nature 
of the persons situated, and thereby on their way of taking 
it. There are methods of so-called presentation, I believe 
among novelists who have appeared to flourish that offer 
the situation as indifferent to that support; but I have not 
lost the sense of the value for me, at the time, of the 
admirable Russian's testimony to my not needing, all super- 
stitiously, to try and perform any such gymnastic. Other 
echoes from the same source linger with me, I confess, as 
unfadingly : if it be not all indeed one much-embracing 
echo. It was impossible after that not to read, for one's 
uses, high lucidity into the tormented and disfigured and 
bcmuddled question of the objective value, and even quite 



into that of the critical appreciation, of "subject" in the 

One had had from an early time, for that matter, the 
instinct of the right estimate of such values and of its reduc- 
ing to the inane the dull dispute over the "immoral'* subject 
and the moral. Recognising so promptly the one measure 
of the worth of a given subject, the question about it that, 
rightly answered, disposes of all others is it valid, in a 
word, is it genuine, is it sincere, the result of some direct 
impression or perception of life? I had found small edi- 
fication, mostly, in a critical pretension that had neglected 
from the first all delimitation of ground and all definition 
of terms. The air of my earlier time shows, to memory, as 
darkened, all round, with that vanity unless the difference 
to-day be just in one's own final impatience, the lapse of 
one's attention. There is, I think, no more nutritive or sug- 
gestive truth in this connexion than that of the perfect depend- 
ence of the "moral" sense of a work of art on the amount 
of felt life concerned in producing it. The question comes 
back thus, obviously, to the kind and the degree of the artist's 
prime sensibility, which is the soil out of which his subject 
springs. The quality and capacity of that soil, its ability 
to "grow" with due freshness and straightness any vision of 
life, represents, strongly or weakly, the projected morality. 
That element is but another name for the more or less close 
connexion of the subject with some mark made on the in- 
telligence, with some sincere experience. By which, at the 
same time, of course, one is far from contending that this 
enveloping air of the artist's humanity which gives the last 
touch to the worth of the work is not a widely and won- 
drously varying element; being on one occasion a rich and 
magnificent medium and on another a comparatively poor 
and ungenerous one. Here we get exactly the high price 
of the novel as a literary form its power not only, while 
preserving that form with closeness, to range through all the 



differences o the individual relation to its general subject- 
matter, all the varieties of outlook on life, of disposition to 
reflect and project, created by conditions that are never the 
same from man to man (or, so far as that goes, from man to 
woman), but positively to appear more true to its character 
in proportion as it strains, or tends to burst, with a latent 
extravagance, its mould. 

The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a 
milliona number of possible windows not to be reckoned, 
rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierce- 
able, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision 
and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, 
of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the 
human scene that we might have expected of them a greater 
sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at 
the best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched 
aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life. 
But they have this mark of their own that at each of them 
stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at least with a field- 
glass, which forms, again and again, for observation, a unique 
instrument, insuring to the person making use of it an im- 
pression distinct from every other. He and his neighbours are 
watching the same show, but one seeing more where the 
other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white, 
one seeing big where the other sees small, one seeing coarse 
where the other sees fine. And so on, aad so on; there is 
fortunately no saying on what, for the particular pair of eyes, 
the window may not open; "fortunately" by reason, precisely, 
of this incalculability of range. The spreading field, the human 
scene, is the "choice of subject"; the pierced aperture, either 
broad or balconied or slit-like and low-browed, is the "liter- 
ary form"; but they are, singly or together, as nothing with- 
out the posted presence of the watcher without, in other 
words, the consciousness of the artist. Tell me what the 
artist is, and I will tell you of what he has been conscious. 



Thereby I shall express to you at once his boundless freedom 
and his "moral" reference. 

All this is a long way round, however, for my word about 
my dim first move toward "The Portrait," which was exactly 
my grasp of a single character an acquisition I had made, 
moreover, after a fashion not here to be retraced. Enough 
that I was, as seemed to me, in complete possession of it, 
that I had been so for a long time, that this had made it 
familiar and yet had not blurred its charm, and that, all 
urgently, all tormentingly, I saw it in motion and, so to speak, 
in transit. This amounts to saying that I saw it as bent upoa 
its fate some fate or other; which, among the possibilities, 
being precisely the question. Thus I had my vivid individual 
vivid, so strangely, in spite of being still at large, not con- 
fined by the conditions, not engaged in the tangle, to which 
we look for much of the impress that constitutes an identity* 
If the apparition was still all to be placed how came it to be 
vivid? since we puzzle such quantities out, mostly, just by 
the business of placing them. One could answer such a ques- 
tion beautifully, doubtless, if one could do so subtle, if not so 
monstrous, a thing as to write the history of the growth of 
one's imagination. One would describe then what, at a givea 
time, had extraordinarily happened to it, and one would so, 
for instance, be in a position to tell, with an approach to 
clearness, how, under favour of occasion, it had been able 
to take over (take over straight from life) such and such 
a constituted, animated figure or form. The figure has to 
that extent, as you see, been placed placed in the imagination 
that detains it, preserves, protects, enjoys it, conscious of its. 
presence in the dusky, crowded, heterogeneous back-shop of 
the mind very much as a wary dealer in precious odds and 
ends, competent to make an "advance" on rare objects con- 
fided to him, is conscious of the rare little "piece" left in 
deposit by the reduced, mysterious lady of title or the specu- 
lative amateur, and which is already there to disclose its merit 



afresh as soon as a key shall have clicked in a cupboard 

That may be, I recognise, a somewhat superfine analogy 
for the particular "value" I here speak of, the image o the 
young feminine nature that I had had for so considerable a 
time all curiously at my disposal; but it appears to fond mem- 
ory quite to fit 'the fact with the recall, in addition, of my 
pious desire but to place my treasure right. I quite remind 
myself thus of the dealer resigned not to "realise," resigned 
to keeping the precious object locked up indefinitely rather than 
commit it, at no matter what price, to vulgar hands. For 
there are dealers in these forms and figures and treasures 
capable of that refinement. The point is, however, that this 
single small corner-stone, the conception of a certain young 
woman affronting her destiny, had begun with being all my 
outfit for the large building of "The Portrait of a Lady." It 
came to be a square and spacious house or has at least seemed 
so to me in this going over it again; but, such as it is, it had to 
be put up round my young woman while she stood there in 
perfect isolation. That is to me, artistically speaking, the 
circumstance of interest; for I have lost myself once more, 
I confess, in the curiosity of analysing the structure. By 
what process of logical accretion was this slight "personal- 
ity," the mere slim shade of an intelligent but presumptu- 
ous girl, to find itself endowed with the high attributes of 
a Subject? and indeed by what thinness, at the best, would 
such a subject not be vitiated? Millions of presumptuous girls, 
intelligent or not intelligent, daily affront their destiny, and 
what is it open to their destiny to be, at the most, that we 
should make an ado about it ? The novel is of its very nature an 
"ado," an ado about something, and the larger the form it takes 
the greater of course the ado. Therefore, consciously, that was 
what one was in for for positively organising an ado about 
Isabel Archer. 

One looked it well in the face, I seem to remember, this 



extravagance; and with the effect precisely of recognising the 
charm of the problem. Challenge any such problem with 
any intelligence, and you immediately see how full it is of 
substance; the wonder being, all the while, as we look at 
the world, how absolutely, how inordinately, the Isabel 
Archers, and even much smaller female fry, insist on mat- 
tering. George Eliot has admirably noted it "In these frail 
vessels is borne onward through the ages the treasure of hu- 
man affection." In "Romeo and Juliet" Juliet has to be im- 
portant, just as, in "Adam Bede" and "The Mill on the 
Floss" and "Middlemarch" and "Daniel Deronda," Hetty 
Sorrel and Maggie Tulliver and Rosamond Vincy and Gwen- 
dolen Harleth have to be; with that much of firm ground^ 
that much of bracing air, at the disposal all the while of their 
feet and their lungs. They are typical, none the less, of a 
class difficult, in the individual case, to make a centre of in- 
terest; so difficult in fact that many an expert painter, as for 
instance Dickens and Walter Scott, as for instance even, in the 
main, so subtle a hand as that of R. L. Stevenson, has pre- 
ferred to leave the task unattempted. There are in fact writers 
as to whom we make out that their refuge from this is to 
assume it to be not worth their attempting; by which pusil- 
lanimity in truth their honour is scantly saved. It is never 
an attestation of a value, or even of our imperfect sense of 
one, it is never a tribute to any truth at all, that we shall 
represent that value badly. It never makes up, artistically, 
for an artist's dim feeling about a thing that he shall "do" 
the thing as ill as possible. There are better ways than that, 
the best of all of which is to begin with less stupidity. 

It may be answered meanwhile, in regard to Shakespeare's 
and to George Eliot's testimony, that their concession to 
the "importance" of their Juliets and Cleopatras and Por- 
tias (even with Portia as the very type and model of the 
young person intelligent and presumptuous) and to that of 
dieir Hettys and Maggies and Rosamonds and Gwendolens, 



suffers the abatement that these slimnesses are, when figur- 
ing as the main props of the theme, never suffered to be sole 
ministers of its appeal, but have their inadequacy eked out 
with comic relief and underplots, as the playwrights say, 
when not with murders and battles and the great mutations 
of the world. If they are shown as "mattering" as much 
as they could possibly pretend to, the proof of it is in a hun- 
dred other persons, made of much stouter stuff, and each 
involved moreover in a hundred relations which matter to 
them concomitantly with that one. Cleopatra matters, be- 
yond bounds, to Antony, but his colleagues, his antagonists, 
the state of Rome and the impending battle also prodigiously 
matter; Portia matters to Antonio, and to Shylock, and to the 
Prince of Morocco, to the fifty aspiring princes, but for these 
gentry there are other lively concerns; for Antonio, notably, 
there are Shylock and Bassanio and his lost ventures and the 
extremity of his predicament. This extremity indeed, by 
the same token, matters to Portia though its doing so be- 
comes of interest all by the fact that Portia matters to us. That 
she does so, at any rate, and that almost everything comes 
round to it again, supports my contention as to this fine exam- 
ple of the value recognised in the mere young thing. (I say 
"mere" young thing because I guess that even Shakespeare, 
preoccupied mainly though he may have been with the pas- 
sions of princes, would scarce have pretended to found the best 
of his appeal for her on her high social position.) It is an ex- 
ample exactly of the deep difficulty braved the difficulty of 
making George Eliot's "frail vessel," if not the all-in-all for 
our attention, at least the clearest of the call. 

Now to see deep difficulty braved is at any time, for the 
really addicted artist, to feel almost even as a pang the beau- 
tiful incentive, and to feel it verily in such sort as to wish the 
danger intensified. The difficulty most worth tackling can 
only be for him, in these conditions, the greatest the case 
permits o So I remember feeling here (in presence, always, 



that is, of the particular uncertainty of my ground) , that there 
would be one way better than another oh, ever so much bet- 
ler than any other! of making it fight out its battle. The 
frail vessel, that charged with George Eliot's "treasure," and 
thereby of such importance to those who curiously approach 
it, has likewise possibilities of importance to itself, possibilities 
which permit of treatment and in fact peculiarly require it 
from the moment they are considered at all There is always 
the escape from any close account of the weak agent of such 
spells by using as a bridge for evasion, for retreat and flight, 
the view of her relation to those surrounding her. Make it 
predominantly a view of their relation and the trick is played: 
you give the general sense of her effect, and you give it, so 
far as the raising on it of a superstructure goes, with the maxi- 
mum of ease. Well, I recall perfectly how little, in my 
now quite established connexion, the maximum of ease ap- 
pealed to me, and how I seemed to get rid of it by an hon- 
est transposition of the weights in the two scales. "Place 
the centre of the subject in the young woman's own con- 
sciousness," I said to myself, "and you get as interesting 
and as beautiful a difficulty as you could wish. Stick to that 
for the centre; put the heaviest weight into that scale, 
which will be so largely the scale of her relation to herself. 
Make her only interested enough, at the same time, in the 
things that are not herself, and this relation need n't fear to 
be too limited. Place meanwhile in the other scale the lighter 
weight (which is usually the one that tips the balance of in- 
terest): press least hard, in short, on the consciousness of 
your heroine's satellites, especially the male; make it an inter- 
est contributive only to the greater one. See, at all events, 
what can be done in this way. What better field could there 
be for a due ingenuity? The girl hovers, inextinguishable, as 
a charming creature, and the job will be to translate her into 
the highest terms of that formula, and as nearly as possible 
moreover into all of them. To depend upon her and her 



little concerns wholly to see you through will necessitate, re- 
member, your really 'doing' her." 

So far I reasoned, and it took nothing less than that tech- 
nical rigour, I now easily see, to inspire me with the right 
confidence for erecting on such a plot of ground the neat 
and careful and proportioned pile of bricks that arches over 
it and that was thus to form, constructionally speaking, a liter- 
ary monument. Such is the aspect that to-day "The Portrait" 
wears for me: a structure reared with an "architectural" com- 
petence, as Turgeniefr" would have said, that makes it, to the 
author's own sense, the most proportioned of his productions 
after "The Ambassadors" which was to follow it so many 
years later and which has, no doubt, a superior roundness. On 
one thing I was determined; that, though I should clearly have 
to pile brick upon brick for the creation of an interest, I would 
leave no pretext for saying that anything is out of line, scale 
or perspective. I would build large in fine embossed vaults 
and painted arches, as who should say, and yet never let it 
appear that the chequered pavement, the ground under the 
reader's feet, fails to stretch at every point to the base of 
the walls. That precautionary spirit, on re-perusal of the 
book, is the old note that most touches me: it testifies so, for 
my own ear, to the anxiety of my provision for the reader's 
amusement. I felt, in view of the possible limitations of my 
subject, that no such provision could be excessive, and the 
development of the latter was simply the general form of that 
earnest quest. And I find indeed that this is the only account 
I can give myself of the evolution of the fable: it is all under 
the head thus named that I conceive the needful accretion as 
having taken place, the right complications as having started. 
It was naturally of the essence that the young woman should be 
herself complex; that was rudimentary or was at any rate the 
light in which Isabel Archer had originally dawned. It went, 
however, but a certain way, and other lights, contending, con- 
flicting lights, and of as many different colours, if possible, as 


the rockets, the Roman candles and Catherine-wheels of a 
"pyrotechnic display," would be employable to attest that she 
was. I had, no doubt, a groping instinct for the right com- 
plications, since I am quite unable to track the footsteps of 
those that constitute, as the case stands, the general situation 
exhibited. They are there, for what they are worth, and as 
numerous as might be; but my memory, I confess, is a blank 
as to how and whence they came. 

I seem to myself to have waked up one morning in pos- 
session of them of Ralph Touchett and his parents, of 
Madame Merle, of Gilbert Osmond and his daughter and 
his sister, of Lord Warburton, Caspar Goodwood and Miss 
Stackpole, the definite array of contributions to Isabel Archer's 
history. I recognised them, I knew them, they were the 
numbered pieces of my puzzle, the concrete terms of my 
"plot." It was as if they had simply, by an impulse of their 
own, floated into my ken, and all in response to my pri- 
mary question: "Well, what will she do?" Their answer 
seemed to be that if I would trust them they would show 
me; on which, with an urgent appeal to them to make it at 
least as interesting as they could, I trusted them. They 
were like the group of attendants and entertainers who come 
down by train when people in the country give a party; they 
represented the contract for carrying the party on. That was 
an excellent relation with them a possible one even with 
so broken a reed (from her slightness of cohesion) as Henri- 
etta Stackpole. It is a familiar truth to the novelist, at the 
strenuous hour, that, as certain elements in any work are of 
the essence, so others are only of the form; that as this or 
that character, this or that disposition of the material, be- 
longs to the subject directly, so to speak, so this or that other 
belongs to it but indirectly belongs intimately to the treat- 
ment. This is a truth, however, of which he rarely gets the 
benefit since it could be assured to him, really, but by criti- 
cism based upon perception, criticism which is too little of 



this world. He must not think of benefits, moreover, I freely 
recognise, for that way dishonour lies: he has, that is, but 
one to think ofthe benefit, whatever it may be, involved in 
his having cast a spell upon the simpler, the very simplest, 
forms of attention. This is all he is entitled to; he is entitled 
to nothing, he is bound to admit, that can come to him, from 
the reader, as a result on the latter's part of any act of reflex- 
ion or discrimination. He may enjoy this finer tributethat is 
another affair, but on condition, only of taking it as a gra- 
tuity "thrown in," a mere miraculous windfall, the fruit of 
a tree he may not pretend to have shaken. Against reflex- 
ion, against discrimination, in his interest, all earth and air 
conspire; wherefore it is that, as I say, he must in many 
a case have schooled himself, from the first, to work but for 
a "living wage," The living wage is the reader's grant of 
the least possible quantity of attention required for con- 
sciousness of a "spell." The occasional charming "tip" is an 
act of his intelligence over and beyond this, a golden apple, 
for the writer's lap, straight from the wind-stirred tree. The 
artist may of course ? in wanton moods, dream of some Para- 
dise (for art) where the direct appeal to the intelligence might 
be legalised; for to such extravagances as these his yearning 
mind can scarce hope ever completely to close itself. The most 
he can do is to remember they are extravagances. 

All of which is perhaps but a gracefully devious way of 
saying that Henrietta Stackpole was a good example, in 
"The Portrait," of the truth to which I just adverted as 
good an example as I could name were it not that Maria 
Gostrey, in "The Ambassadors," then in the bosom of time, 
may be mentioned as a better. Each of these persons is 
but wheels to the coach; neither belongs to the body of 
that vehicle, or is for a moment accommodated with a seat 
inside. There the subject alone is ensconced, in the form 
of its "hero and heroine," and of the privileged high offi- 
cials, say, who ride with the king and queen. There are 



reasons why one would have liked this to be felt, as in gen- 
eral one would like almost anything to be felt, in one's 
work, that one has one's self contributively felt. We have 
seen, however, how idle is that pretension, which 1 should 
be sorry to make too much of. Maria Gostrey and Miss 
Stackpole then are cases, each, of the light ficelle, not o 
the true agent; they may run beside the coach "for all they 
are worth," they may cling to it till they are out of breath 
(as poor Miss Stackpole all so vividly does), but neither, 
all the while, so much as gets her foot on the step, neither 
ceases for a moment to tread the dusty road. Put ic even 
that they are like the fishwives who helped to bring back 
to Paris from Versailles, on that most ominous day of the 
first half of the French Revolution, the carriage of the royal 
family. The only thing is that I may well be asked, I acknowl- 
edge, why then, in the present fiction, I have suffered Henri- 
etta (of whom we have indubitably too much) so officiously, 
so strangely, so almost inexplicably, to pervade. I will presently 
say what I can for that anomaly and in the most concili- 
atory fashion. 

A point I wish still more to make is that if my relation 
of confidence with the actors in my drama who were, unlike 
Miss Stackpole, true agents, was an excellent one to have 
arrived at, there still remained my relation with the reader, 
which was another affair altogether and as to which I felt 
no one to be trusted but myself. That solicitude was to be 
accordingly expressed in the artful patience with which, as 
I have said, I piled brick upon brick. The bricks, for the 
whole counting-over putting for bricks little touches and 
inventions and enhancements by the way affect me in truth 
as well-nigh innumerable and as ever so scrupulously fitted 
together and packed-in. It is an effect of detail, of the mi- 
nutest; though, if one were in this connexion to say all, 
one would express the hope that the general, the ampler air 
of the modest monument still survives. I do at least seem 



to catch the key to a part of this abundance of small anxious, 
ingenious illustration as I recollect putting my finger, in my 
young woman's interest, on the most obvious of her predi- 
cates. "What will she 'do'? Why, the first thing shell do 
will be to come to Europe; which in fact will form, and 
all inevitably, no small part of her principal adventure. Com- 
ing to Europe is even for the 'frail vessels,' in this wonder- 
ful age, a mild adventure; but what is truer than that on 
one side the side of their independence of flood and field, 
of the moving accident, of battle and murder and sudden 
death her adventures are to be mild? Without her sense 
of them, her sense for them, as one may say, they are next 
to nothing at all; but isn't the beauty and the difficulty just 
in showing their mystic conversion by that sense, conver- 
sion into the stuff of drama or, even more delightful word 
still, of 'story'?" It was all as clear, my contention, as a silver 
bell Two very good instances, I think, of this effect of con- 
version, two cases of the rare chemistry, are the pages in which 
Isabel, coming into the drawing-room at Gardencourt, com- 
ing in from a wet walk or whatever, that rainy afternoon,, 
finds Madame Merle in possession of the place, Madame Merle 
seated, all absorbed but all serene, at the piano, and deeply 
recognises, in the striking of such an hour, in the presence 
there, among the gathering shades, of this personage, of whom 
a moment before she had never so much as heard, a turning- 
point in her life. It is dreadful to have too much, for any 
artistic demonstration, to dot one's i's and insist on one's 
intentions, and I am not eager to do it now; but the question 
here was that of producing the maximum of intensity with 
the minimum of strain. 

The interest was to be raised to its pitch and yet the ele- 
ments to be kept in their key; so that, should the whole 
thing duly impress, I might show what an "exciting" in- 
ward life may do for the person leading it even while it 



remains perfectly normal. And I cannot think o a more 
consistent application of that ideal unless it be in the long 
statement, just beyond the middle of the book, of my 
young woman's extraordinary meditative vigil on the occasion 
that was to become for her such a landmark. Reduced to 
its essence, it is but the vigil of searching criticism; but it 
throws the action further forward than twenty "incidents" 
might have done. It was designed to have all the vivacity 
of incident and all the economy of picture. She sits up, by 
her dying fire, far into the night, under the spell of recogni- 
tions on which she finds the last sharpness suddenly wait. 
It is a representation simply of her motionlessly seeing, and 
an attempt withal to make the mere still lucidity of her act 
as "interesting" as the surprise of a caravan or the identi- 
fication of a pirate. It represents, for that matter, one of 
the identifications dear to the novelist, and even indispens- 
able to him; but it all goes on without her being approached 
by another person and without her leaving her chair. It is 
obviously the best thing in the book, but it is only a su- 
preme illustration of the general plan. As to Henrietta, my 
apology for whom I just left incomplete, she exemplifies, I 
fear, in her superabundance, not an element of my plan, but 
only an excess of my zeal. So early was to begin my tendency 
to overtreat, rather than undertreat (when there was choice or 
danger) my subject. (Many members of my craft, I gather, 
are far from agreeing with me, but I have always held over- 
treating the minor disservice.) "Treating" that of "The Por- 
trait" amounted to never forgetting, by any lapse, that the 
thing was under a special obligation to be amusing. There 
was the danger of the noted "thinness" which was to be 
averted, tooth and nail, by cultivation of the lively. That is at 
least how I see it to-day. Henrietta must have been at that 
time a part of my wonderful notion of the lively. And then 
there was another matter. I had, within the few preceding 


years, come to live in London, and the "international" light 
lay, in those days, to my sense, thick and rich upon the scene. 
It was the light in which so much of the picture hung. But 
that is another ma^r. There is really too much to say 


THE simplest account of the origin of "The Princess Casa- 
massima" is, I think, that this fiction proceeded quite directly, 
during the first year of a long residence in London, from the 
habit and the interest of walking the streets. I walked a great 
deal for exercise, for amusement, for acquisition, and above 
all I always walked home at the evening's end, when the 
evening had been spent elsewhere, as happened more often 
than not; and as to do this was to receive many impres^ 
sions, so the impressions worked and sought an issue, so 
the book after a time was born. It is a fact that, as I look 
back, the attentive exploration of London, the assault directly 
made by the great city upon an imagination quick to react, 
fully explains a large part of it. There is a minor clement 
that refers itself to another source, of which I shall presently 
speak; but the prime idea was unmistakeably the ripe round 
fruit of perambulation. One walked of course with one's 
eyes greatly open, and I hasten to declare that such a prac- 
tice, carried on for a long time and over a considerable space, 
positively provokes, all round, a .mystic solicitation, the urgent 
appeal, on the part of everything, to be interpreted and, so far 
as may be, reproduced. "Subjects" and situations, character 
and history, the tragedy and comedy of life, are things of which 
the common air, in such conditions, seems pungently to taste; 
and to a mind curious, before the human scene, of meanings 
and revelations the great grey Babylon easily becomes, on its 
face, a garden bristling with an immense illustrative flora. 



Possible stories, presentable figures, rise from the thick jungle 
as the observer moves, fluttering up like startled game, and 
before he knows it indeed he has fairly to guard himself against 
the brush of importunate wings. He goes on as with his head 
in a cloud of humming presences especially during the 
younger, the initiatory time, the fresh, the sharply-apprehensive 
months or years, more or less numerous. We use our material 
up, we use up even the thick tribute of the London streets 
if perception and attention but sufficiently light our steps. But 
I think of them as lasting, for myself, quite sufficiently long; 
I think of them as even stilldreadfully changed for the worse 
in respect to any romantic idea as I find them breaking out 
on occasion into eloquence, throwing out deep notes from their 
vast vague murmur. 

There was a moment at any rate when they offered me no 
image more vivid than that of some individual sensitive 
nature or fine mind, some small obscure intelligent creature 
whose education should have been almost wholly derived 
from them, capable of profiting by all the civilisation, all 
the accumulations to which they testify, yet condemned to 
see these things only from outside in mere quickened con- 
sideration, mere wistfulness and envy and despair. It seemed 
to me I had only to imagine such a spirit intent enough and 
troubled enough, and to place it in presence of the comings 
and goings, the great gregarious company, of the more for- 
tunate than himself all on the scale on which London could 
show them to get possession of an interesting theme. I 
arrived so at the history of little Hyacinth Robinson he sprang 
up for me out of the London pavement., To find his possible 
adventure interesting I had only to conceive his watching 
the same public show, the same innumerable appearances, I 
had watched myself, and of his watching very much as I had 
watched; save indeed for one little difference. This difference 
would be that so far as all the swarming facts should speak 
of freedom and ease, knowledge and power, money, oppor* 



tunity and satiety, he should be able to revolve round them 
but at the most respectful o distances and with every door 
of approach shut in his face. For one's self, all conveniently, 
there had been doors that opened opened into light and 
warmth and cheer, into good and charming relations; and if 
the place as a whole lay heavy on one's consciousness there 
was yet always for relief this implication of one's own lucky 
share of the freedom and ease, lucky acquaintance with the 
number of lurking springs at light pressure of which par- 
ticular vistas would begin to recede, great lighted, furnished, 
peopled galleries, sending forth gusts of agreeable sound. 

That main happy sense of the picture was always there 
and that retreat from the general grimness never forbidden; 
whereby one's own relation to the mere formidable mass 
and weight of things was eased off and adjusted. One learned 
from an early period what it might be to know London in 
such a way as that an immense and interesting discipline, 
an education on terms mostly convenient and delightful. But 
what would be the effect of the other way, of having so many 
precious things perpetually in one's eyes, yet of missing them 
all for any closer knowledge, and of the confinement of closer 
knowledge entirely to matters with which a connexion, how- 
ever intimate, couldn't possibly pass for a privilege? Truly, 
of course^ there are London mysteries (dense categories of 
dark arcana) for every spectator, and it's in a degree an exclu- 
sion and a state of weakness to be without experience of the 
meaner conditions, the lower manners and types, the general 
sordid struggle, the weight of the burden of labour, the 
ignorance, the misery and the vice. With such matters as 
those my tormented young man would have had contact 
they would have formed, fundamentally, from the first, his 
natural and immediate London. But the reward of a roman- 
tic curiosity would be the question of what the total assault, 
that of the world of his work-a-day life and the world of his 
divination and his envy together, would have made of him. 


and what in especial he would have made of them. As tor- 
mented, I say, I thought of him, and that would be the point 
if one could only see him feel enough to be interesting with- 
out his feeling so much as not to be natural. 

This in fact I have ever found rather terribly the point 
that the figures in any picture, the agents in any drama, 
are interesting only in proportion as they feel their respective 
situations; since the consciousness, on their part, of the com- 
plication exhibited forms for us their link of connexion with 
it. But there are degrees of feelingthe muffled, the faint, 
the just sufficient, the barely intelligent, as we may say; and 
the acute, the intense, the complete, in a word the power 
to be finely aware and richly responsible. It is those moved 
in this latter fashion who "get most" out of all that happens 
to them and who in so doing enable us, as readers of their 
record, as participators by a fond attention, also to get most. 
Their being finely aware as Hamlet and Lear, say, are finely 
aware ra^w absolutely the intensity of their adventure, gives 
the maximum of sense to what befalls them. We care, our 
curiosity and our sympathy care, comparatively little for what 
happens to the stupid, the coarse and the blind; care for it, 
and for the effects o it, at the most as helping to precipitate 
what happens to the more deeply wondering, to the really 
sentient. Hamlet and Lear are surrounded, amid their com- 
plications, by the stupid and the blind, who minister in all 
sorts of ways to their recorded fate. Persons of markedly 
limited sense would, on such a principle as that, play a part 
in the career of my tormented youth; but he wouldn't be of 
markedly limited sense himself he would note as many things 
and vibrate to as many occasions as I might venture to make 

There wouldn't moreover simply be the question of his 
suffering of which we might soon get enough; there would 
be the question of what, all beset and all perceptive, he should 
thus adventurously do, thus dream and hazard and attempt. 



The interest of the attitude and the act would be the actor's 
imagination and vision of them, together with the nature 
and degree of their felt return upon him. So the intelligent 
creature would be required and so some picture of his intel- 
ligence involved. The picture of an intelligence appears for 
the most part, it is true, a dead weight for the reader of the 
English novel to carry, this reader having so often the won- 
drous property of caring for the displayed tangle of human 
relations without caring for its intelligibility. The teller of a 
story is primarily, none the less, the listener to it, the reader 
of it, too; and, having needed thus to make it out, distinctly, 
on the crabbed page of life, to disengage it from the rude 
human character and the more or less Gothic text in which it 
has been packed away, the very essence of his affair has been 
the imputing of intelligence. The basis of his attention has 
been that such and such an imbroglio has got started on the 
page of life because of something that some one has felt and 
more or less understood. 

I recognise at the same time, and in planning "The Prin- 
cess Casamassima" felt it highly important to recognise, the 
danger of filling too full any supposed and above all any 
obviously limited vessel of consciousness. If persons either 
tragically or comically embroiled with life allow us the comic 
or tragic value of their embroilment in proportion as their 
struggle is a measured and directed one, it is strangely true, 
none the less, that beyond a certain point they are spoiled 
for us by this carrying of a due light. They may carry too 
much of it for our credence, for our compassion, for our 
derision. They may be shown as knowing too much and 
feeling too much not certainly for their remaining remark- 
able, but for their remaining "natural" and typical, for their 
having the needful communities with our own precious 
liability to fall into traps and be bewildered. It seems probable 
that if we were never bewildered there would never be a story 
to tell about us; we should partake of the superior nature of 



the all-knowing immortals whose annals are dreadfully dull 
so long as flurried humans are not, for the positive relief of 
bored Olympians, mixed up with them. Therefore it is that 
the wary reader for the most part warns the novelist against 
making his characters too interpretative of the muddle of 
fate, or in other words too divinely, too priggishly clever. 
"Give us plenty of bewilderment," this monitor seems to say, 
"so long as there is plenty of slashing out in the bewilderment 
too. But don't, we beseech you, give us too much intelli- 
gence; for intelligence well, endangers; endangers not per- 
haps the slasher himself, but the very slashing, the subject- 
matter of any self-respecting story. It opens up too many con- 
siderations, possibilities, issues; it may lead the slasher into 
dreary realms where slashing somehow fails and falls to the 

That is well reasoned on the part of the reader, who can 
in spite of it never have an idea or his earnest discrimi- 
nations would come to him less easily of the extreme dif- 
ficulty, for the painter of the human mixture, of reproducing 
that mixture aright. "Give us in the persons represented, 
the subjects of the bewilderment (thac bewilderment with- 
out which there would be no question of an issue or of the 
fact of suspense, prime implications in any story) as much 
experience as possible, but keep down the terms in which 
you report that experience, because we only understand the 
very simplest": such in effect are the words in which the 
novelist constantly hears himself addressed, such the plea 
made him by the would-be victims of his spell on behalf of 
that sovereign principle the economy of interest, a principle 
is to which their instinct is justly strong. He listens anxiously 
to the charge nothing can exceed his own solicitude for 
an economy of interest; but feels himself all in presence of 
an abyss of ambiguities, the mutual accommodations in which 
the reader wholly leaves to him. Experience, as I see it, is 
t>ur apprehension and our measure of what happens to us as 


social creatures any intelligent report of which has to be 
based on that apprehension. The picture of the exposed and 
entangled state is what is required, and there are certainly 
always plenty of grounds for keeping down the complex- 
ides of a picture. A picture it still has to be, however, and 
by that condition has to deal effectually with its subject, so 
that the simple device of more and more keeping down may 
well not see us quite to our end or even quite to our middle. 
One suggested way of keeping down, for instance, is not to 
attribute feeling, or feelings, to persons who would n't in all 
probability have had any to speak of. The less space, within 
the frame of the picture, their feelings take up the more 
space is left for their doings a fact that may at first seem 
to make for a refinement of economy. 

All of which is charming yet would be infinitely more 
so if here at once amibiguity didn't yawn; the unreality of 
the sharp distinction, where the interest of observation is at 
stake, between doing and feeling. In the immediate field 
of life, for action, for application, for getting through a job, 
nothing may so much matter perhaps as the descent of a 
suspended weight on this, that or the other spot, with all 
its subjective concomitants quite secondary and irrelevant. 
But the affair of the painter is not the immediate, it is the 
reflected field of life, the realm not of application, but of 
appreciation a truth that makes our measure of effect al- 
together different. My report of people's experience my 
report as a "story-teller" is essentially my appreciation of 
it, and there is no "interest" for me in what my hero, 
my heroine or any one else does save through that admir- 
able process. As soon as I begin to appreciate simplification 
is imperilled: the sharply distinguished parts of any ad- 
venture, any case of endurance and performance, melt to- 
gether as an appeal. I then see their "doing," that of the 
persons just mentioned, as, immensely, their feeling, their 
feeling as their doing; since I can have none of the con- 



veyed sense and taste of their situation without becoming 
intimate with them. I can't be intimate without that sense 
and taste, and I can't appreciate save by intimacy, any more 
than I can report save by a projected light. Intimacy with 
a man's specific behaviour, with his given case, is desper- 
ately certain to make us see it as a whole in which event 
arbitrary limitations of our vision lose whatever beauty they 
may on occasion have pretended to. What a man thinks 
and what he feels are the history and the character of what 
he does; on all of which things the logic of intensity rests. 
Without intensity where is vividness, and without vividness 
where is presentability ? If I have called the most general 
state of one's most exposed and assaulted figures the state 
of bewilderment the condition for instance on which Thack- 
eray so much insists in the interest of his exhibited careers, 
the condition of a humble heart, a bowed head, a patient 
wonder, a suspended judgement, before the "awful will" 
and the mysterious decrees of Providence so it is rather 
witless to talk of merely getting rid of that displayed mode 
of reaction, one of the oft-encountered, one of the highly 
recommended, categories of feeling. 

The whole thing comes to depend thus on the quality of 
bewilderment characteristic of one's creature, the quality in- 
volved in the given case or supplied by one's data. There 
are doubtless many such qualities, ranging from vague and 
crepuscular to sharpest and most critical; and we have but 
to imagine one of these latter to see how easily from the 
moment it gets its head at all it may insist on playing a 
part. There we have then at once a case of feeling, of ever 
so many possible feelings, stretched across the scene like an 
attached thread on which the pearls of interest are strung. 
There are threads shorter and less tense, and I am far from 
implying that the minor, the coarser and less fruitful forms 
and degrees of moral reaction, as we may conveniently call 
it, may not yield lively results. They have their subordinate, 



comparative, illustrative human value that appeal of the 
witless which is often so> penetrating. Verily even, I think, 
no "story" is possible without its foolsas most of the fine 
painters of life, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Balzac, Field- 
ing, Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, George Meredith, George 
Eliot, Jane Austen, have abundantly felt. At the same time 
I confess I never see the leading interest of any human 
hazard but in a consciousness (on the part of the moved and 
moving creature) subject to fine intensification and wide 
enlargement. It is as mirrored in that consciousness that the 
gross fools, the headlong fools, the fatal fools play their part 
for us they have much less to show us in themselves. The 
troubled life mostly at the centre of our subject whatever our 
subject, for the artistic hour, happens to be embraces them 
and deals with them for its amusement and its anguish: they 
are apt largely indeed, on a near view, to be all the cause of 
its trouble. This means, exactly, that the person capable of 
feeling in the given case more than another of what is to be 
felt for it, and so serving in the highest degree to record 
it dramatically and objectively, is the only sort of person on 
whom we can count not to betray, to cheapen or, as we say, 
give away, the value and beauty of the thing. By so much as 
the affair matters for some such individual, by so much do 
we get the best there is of it, and by so much as it falls 
within the scope of a denser and duller, a more vulgar and 
more shallow capacity, do we get a picture dim and meagre. 
The great chroniclers have clearly always been aware of 
this; they have at least always either placed a mind of some 
sort j n {he sense o f a reflecting and colouring medium 
in possession of the general adventure (when the latter has 
not been purely epic, as with Scott, say, as with old Dumas 
and with Zola); or else paid signally, as to the interest 
created, for their failure to do so. We may note moreover 
in passing that this failure is in almost no case intentional or 
part of a plan, but has sprung from their limited curiosity, 



their short conception of the particular sensibility projected. 
Edgar of Ravenswood for instance, visited by the tragic 
tempest of "The Bride of Lammermoor," has a black cloak 
and hat and feathers more than he has a mind; just as 
Hamlet, while equally sabled and draped and plumed, while 
at least equally romantic, has yet a mind still more than he 
has a co-stume. The situation represented is that Ravens- 
wood loves Lucy Ashton through dire difficulty and danger, 
and that she in the same way loves him; but the relation 
so created between them is by this neglect of the "feeling" 
question never shown us as primarily taking place. It is 
shown only in its secondary, its confused and disfigured as- 
pectswhere, however, luckily, it is presented with great 
romantic good faith. The thing has nevertheless paid for its 
deviation, as I say, by a sacrifice of intensity; the centre of 
the subject is empty and the development pushed off, all 
round, toward the framewhich is, so to speak, beautifully 
rich and curious. But I mention that relation to each other 
of the appearances in a particular work only as a striking 
negative case; there are in the connexion I have glanced at 
plenty of striking positive ones. It is very true that Field- 
ing's hero in "Tom Jones" is but as "finely," that is but 
as intimately, bewildered as a young man of great health 
and spirits may be when he hasn't a grain of imagination: 
the point to be made is, at all events, that his sense of be- 
wilderment obtains altogether on the comic, never on the 
tragic plane. He has so much "life" that it amounts, for 
the effect of comedy and application of satire, almost to his 
having a mind, that is to his having reactions and a full 
consciousness; besides which his author he handsomely pos- 
sessed of a mind has such an amplitude of reflexion for 
him and round him that we see him through the mellow air 
of Fielding's fine old moralism, fine old humour and fine old 
style, which somehow really enlarge, make every one and every 
thing important. 


All of which furthers my remarking how much I have 
been interested, on reading "The Princess Casamassima" 
over, to recognise my sense, sharp from far back, that clear- 
ness and concreteness constantly depend, for any pictorial 
whole, on some concentrated individual notation of them. 
That notation goes forward here in the mind of little Hya- 
cinth, immensely quickened by the fact of its so mattering 
to his very life what he does make of things: which passion 
of intelligence is, as I have already hinted, precisely his 
highest value for our curiosity and our sympathy. Yet if 
his highest it is not at all his only one, since the truth for 
"a young man in a book" by no means entirely resides in 
his being either exquisitely sensitive or shiningly clever. It 
resides in some such measure of these things as may consort 
with the fine measure of other things too with that of the 
other faces of his situation and character. If he's too sensi- 
tive and too clever for them, if he knows more than is likely 
or natural for him it's as if he weren't at all, as if he were 
false and impossible. Extreme and attaching always the diffi- 
culty of fixing at a hundred points the place where one's 
Impelled bonhomme may feel enough and "know" enough 
or be in the way of learning enough for his maximum dra- 
matic value without feeling and knowing too much for his 
minimum verisimilitude, his proper fusion with the fable. This 
is the charming, the tormenting, the eternal little matter to 
be made right, in all the weaving of silver threads and tapping 
on golden nails; and I should take perhaps too fantastic a 
comfort I mean were not the comforts of the artist just 
of the raw essence of fantasy in any glimpse of such achieved 
Tightnesses, whether in my own work or that of others. In no 
work whatever, doubtless, are they the felicities the most fre- 
quent; but they have so inherent a price that even the trace- 
able attempt at them, wherever met, sheds, I think, a fiae 
influence about. 

T have for example a weakness of sympathy with that 


constant effort of George Eliot's which plays through Adam 
Bede and Felix Holt and Tito Melema, through Daniel 
Deronda and through Lydgate in "Middlemarch," through 
Maggie Tulliver, through Romola, through Dorothea Brooke 
and Gwendolen Harleth; the effort to show their adven- 
tures and their history the author's subject-matter all as 
determined by their feelings and the nature of their minds. 
Their emotions, their stirred intelligence, their moral con- 
sciousness, become thus, by sufficiently charmed perusal, our 
own very adventure. The creator of Deronda and of Rom- 
ola is charged, I know, with having on occasion as in 
dealing with those very celebrities themselves left the figure, 
the concrete man and woman, too abstract by reason of the 
quantity of soul employed; but such mischances, where im- 
agination and humour still keep them company, often have an 
interest that is wanting to agitations of the mere surface or 
to those that may be only taken for granted. I should even 
like to give myself the pleasure of retracing from one of my 
own productions to another the play of a like instinctive dis- 
position, of catching in the fact, at one point after another, 
from "Roderick Hudson" to "The Golden Bowl," that pro- 
vision for interest which consists in placing advantageously, 
placing right in the middle of the light, the most polished of 
possible mirrors of the subject. Rowland Mallet, in "Roderick 
Hudson," is exactly such a mirror, not a bit autobiographic 
or formally "first person" though he be, and I might exem- 
plify the case through a long list, through the nature of such a 
"mind" even as the all-objective Newman in "The American," 
through the thickly-peopled imagination of Isabel Archer in 
"The Portrait of a Lady" (her imagination positively the 
deepest depth of her imbroglio) down to such unmistake- 
able examples as that of Merton Densher in "The Wings of 
the Dove," that of Lambert Strether in "The Ambassadors" 
(he a mirror verily of miraculous silver and quite pre-eminent, 
I think, for the connexion) and that of the Prince in the first 



half and that of the Princess in the second half of "The Golden 
Bowl." I should note the extent to which these persons are, 
so far as their other passions permit, intense perceivers, all, of 
their respective predicaments, and I should go on from them 
to fifty other examples; even to the divided Vanderbank of 
"The Awkward Age/' the extreme pinch of whose romance is 
the vivacity in him, to his positive sorrow and loss, of the state 
of being aware; even to scanted Fleda Vetch in "The 
Spoils of Poynton," through whose own delicate vision of 
everything so little of the human value of her situation is 
wasted for us; even to the small recording governess con- 
fronted with the horrors of "The Turn of the Screw" and 
to the innocent child patching together all ineffectually those 
of "What Maisie Knew"; even in short, since I may name 
so few cases, to the disaffected guardian of an overgrown 
legend in "The Birthplace," to the luckless fine artist of "The 
Next Time," trying to despoil himself, for a "hit" and bread 
and butter, of his fatal fineness, to blunt the tips of his intel- 
lectual fingers, and to the hapless butler Brooksmith, ruined 
by good talk, disqualified for common domestic service by the 
beautiful growth of his habit of quiet attention, his faculty of 
appreciation. But though this demonstration of a rooted vice 
since a vice it would appear mainly accounted might yield 
amusement, the examples referred to must await their turn. 

I had had for a long time well before me, at any rate, my 
small obscure but ardent observer of the "London world,* 1 
saw him roam and wonder and yearn, saw all the unan- 
swered questions and baffled passions that might ferment in 
him once he should be made both sufficiently thoughtful 
and sufficiently "disinherited"; but this image, however in- 
teresting, was of course not by itself a progression, an action, 
didn't by itself make a drama. I got my action however- 
failing which one has nothing under the prompt sense that 
the state of feeling I was concerned with might develop 
and beget another state, might return at a given moment, 



and with the greatest vivacity, on itself. To see this was 
really to feel one's subject swim into one's ken, especially 
after a certain other ingenious connexion had been made 
for it. I find myself again recalling, and with the possible 
"fun" of it reviving too*, how I recognised, as revealed and 
prescribed, the particular complexion, profession and other 
conditions of my little presumptuous adventurer, with his 
combination of intrinsic fineness and fortuitous adversity, his 
small cluster of "dingy" London associations and the swell- 
ing spirit in him which was to be the field of his strange ex- 
perience. Accessible through his imagination, as I have hinted, 
to a thousand provocations and intimations, he would become 
most acquainted with destiny in the form of a lively inward 
revolution. His being jealous of all the ease of life of which 
he tastes so little, and, bitten, under this exasperation, with 
an aggressive, vindictive, destructive social faith, his turning 
to "treasons, stratagems and spoils" might be as vivid a 
picture as one chose, but would move to pity and terror only 
by the aid of some deeper complication, some imposed and 
formidable issue. 

The complication most interesting then would be that he 
should fall in love with the beauty of the world, actual order 
and all, at the moment of his most feeling and most hating 
the famous "iniquity of its social arrangements"; so that 
his position as an irreconcileable pledged enemy to it, thus 
rendered false by something more personal than his opinions 
and his vows, becomes the sharpest of his torments. To make 
it a torment that really matters, however, he must have got 
practically involved, specifically committed to the stand he has, 
under the pressure of more knowledge, found impossible; out 
of which has come for him the deep dilemma of the disil- 
lusioned and repentant conspirator. He has thrown himself 
into the more than "shady" underworld of militant social- 
ism, he has undertaken to play a part a part that with the 
drop of his exasperation and the growth, simply expressed, of 



his taste, is out of all tune with his passion, at any cost, for 
life itself, the life, whatever it be, that surrounds him. Dabbling 
deeply in revolutionary politics of a hole-and-corner sort, he 
would be "in" up to his neck, and with that precarious part 
of him particularly involved, so that his tergiversation is the 
climax of his adventure. What was essential with this was that 
he should have a social not less than a socialist connexion, 
find a door somehow open to him into the appeased and civil- 
ised state, into that warmer glow of things he is precisely to 
help to undermine. To look for this necessary connexion was 
for me to meet it suddenly in the form of that extremely 
disponible figure of Christina Light whom I had ten years 
before found left on my hands at the conclusion of "Roderick 
Hudson." She had for so long, in the vague limbo of those 
ghosts we have conjured but not exorcised, been looking for 
a situation, awaiting a niche and a function. 

I shall not pretend to trace the steps and stages by which 
the imputability of a future to that young woman which 
was like the act of clothing her chilled and patient naked- 
ness had for its prime effect to plant her in my little book- 
binder's path. Nothing would doubtless beckon us on fur- 
ther, with a large leisure, than such a chance to study the 
obscure law under which certain of a novelist's characters, 
more or less honourably buried, revive for him by a force 
or a whim of their own and "walk" round his house of art 
like haunting ghosts, feeling for the old doors they knew, 
fumbling at stiff latches and pressing their pale faces, in the 
outer dark, to lighted windows. I mistrust them, I confess, 
in general; my sense of a really expressed character is that 
it shall have originally so tasted of the ordeal of service as 
to feel no disposition to yield again to the strain. Why 
should the Princess of the climax of "Roderick Hudson" 
still have made her desire felt, unless in fact to testify that 
she had not been for what she was completely recorded? 
To continue in evidence, that had struck me from far back as 



her natural passion; in evidence at any price, not consenting to 
be laid away with folded hands in the pasteboard tomb, the 
doll's box, to which we usually relegate the spent puppet after 
the fashion of a recumbent worthy on the slab of a sepulchral 
monument. I was to see this, after all, in the event, as the 
fruit of a restless vanity: Christina had felt herself, known her- 
self, striking, in the earlier connexion, and could n't resign her- 
self not to strike again. Her pressure then was not to be re- 
sistedsharply as the question might come up of why she 
should pretend to strike just there. I shall not attempt to an- 
swer it with reasons (one can never tell everything) ; it was 
enough that I could recognise her claim to have travelled far 
far from where I had last left her: that, one felt, was in char- 
acter that was what she naturally would have done. Her 
prime note had been an aversion to the band, and nothing 
could be of an effect less band, I judged, than her intervention 
in the life of a dingy little London bookbinder whose sensi- 
bility, whose flow of opinions on "public questions'* in especial, 
should have been poisoned at the source. 

She would be world-wearythat was another of her notes; 
and the extravagance of her attitude in these new relations 
would have its root and its apparent logic in her need to feel 
freshly about something or otherit might scarce matter what. 
She can, or she believes she can, feel freshly about the "people" 
and their wrongs and their sorrows and their perpetual smoth- 
ered ferment; for these things are furthest removed from those 
others among which she has hitherto tried to make her life. 
That was to a certainty where I was to have looked for her- 
quite off and away (once granted the wisdom of listening to 
her anew at all) : therefore Hyacinth's encounter with her could 
pass for natural, and it was fortunately to be noted that she 
was to serve for his experience in quite another and a more 
"leading" sense than any in which he was to serve for hers. I 
confess I was not averse such are the possible weaknesses of 
the artist in face of high difficulties to feeling that if his ap- 



pearance of consistency were obtained 1 might at least try to 
remain comparatively at my ease about hers. I may add more- 
over that the resuscitation of Christina (and, on the minor 
scale, of the Prince and of Madame Grandoni) put in a strong 
light for me the whole question, for the romancer, of "going 
on with a character": as Balzac first of all systematically went 
on, as Thackeray, as Trollope, as Zola all more or less in- 
geniously went on. I was to find no small savour in the re- 
flexions so precipitated; though I may treat myself here only 
to this remark about them that the revivalist impulse on the 
fond writer's part strikes me as one thing, a charmingly con- 
ceivable thing, but the effect of a free indulgence in it (effect, 
that is, on the nerves of the reader) as, for twenty rather in- 
effable reasons, quite another. 

I remember at any rate feeling myself all in possession of 
little Hyacinth's consistency, as I have called it, down at Dover 
during certain weeks that were none too remotely precedent 
to the autumn of 1885 and the appearance, in "The Atlantic 
Monthly" again, of the first chapters of the story. There were 
certain sunny, breezy balconied rooms at the quieter end of 
the Esplanade of that cheerful castle-crested little town now 
infinitely perturbed by gigantic "harbour works," but then 
only faded and over-soldiered and all pleasantly and humbly 
submissive to the law that snubs in due course the presump- 
tion of flourishing resorts to which I had already more than 
once had recourse in hours of quickened industry and which, 
though much else has been swept away, still archaically exist. 
To have lately noted this again from the old benched and 
asphalted walk by the sea, the twinkling Channel beyond 
which on occasion the opposite coast of France used to gleam 
as an incident of the charming tendency of the whole prospect 
(immediate picture and fond design alike) amusingly to shine, 
was somehow to taste afresh, and with a certain surprise, the 
odd quality of that original confidence that the parts of my 
plan would somehow hang together. I may wonder at my con- 



fidence now given the extreme, the very particular truth and 
"authority" required at so many points; but to wonder is to live 
back gratefully into the finer reasons of things, with all the 
detail of harsh application and friction (that there must have 
been) quite happily blurred and dim. The finest of reasons 

I mean for the sublime confidence I speak of was that I 

felt in full personal possession of my matter; this really seemed 
the fruit of direct experience. My scheme called for the sug- 
gested nearness (to all our apparently ordered life) of some 
sinister anarchic underworld, heaving in its pain, its power 
and its hate; a presentation not of sharp particulars, but of 
loose appearances., vague motions and sounds and symptoms, 
just perceptible presences and general looming possibilities. 
To have adopted the scheme was to have had to meet the 
question of one's "notes," over the whole ground, the question 
of what, in such directions, one had "gone into" and how 
far one had gone; and to have answered that question to 
one's own satisfaction at leastwas truly to see one's way. 
My notes then, on the much-mixed world of my hero's 
both overt and covert consciousness, were exactly my gath- 
ered impressions and stirred perceptions, the deposit in my 
working imagination of all my visual and all my constructive 
sense of London. The very plan of my book had in fact 
directly confronted me with the rich principle of the Note, 
and was to do much to clear up, once for all, my practical 
view of it. If one was to undertake to tell tales and to re- 
port with truth on the human scene, it could be but because 
"notes" had been from the cradle the ineluctable conse- 
quence of one's greatest inward energy: to take them was 
as natural as to look, to think, to feel, to recognise, to remem- 
ber, as to perform any act of understanding. The play of the 
energy had been continuous and couldn't change; what 
changed was only the objects and situations pressing the 
spring of it. Notes had been in other words the things one 
couldn't not take, and the prime result of all fresh experi- 



ence was to remind one of that. I have endeavoured to 
characterise the peremptory fashion in which my fresh ex- 
perience of London the London of the habitual observer, 
the preoccupied painter, the pedestrian prowler reminded 
me; an admonition that represented, I think, the sum of 
my investigations. I recall pulling no' wires, knocking at no 
closed doors, applying for no "authentic" information; but 
I recall also on the other hand the practice of never miss- 
ing an opportunity to add a drop, however small, to the bucket 
of my impressions or to renew my sense of being able to 
dip into it. To haunt the great city and by this habit to 
penetrate it, imaginatively, in as many places as possible 
that was to be informed, that was to pull wires, that was to 
open doors, that positively was to groan at times under the 
weight of one's accumulations. 

Face to face with the idea of Hyacinth's subterraneous 
politics and occult affiliations, I recollect perfectly feeling, 
In short, that I might well be ashamed if, with my advant- 
ages and there wasn't a street, a corner, an hour, of Lon- 
don that was not an advantage I should n't be able to piece 
together a proper semblance of those things, as indeed a proper 
semblance of all the odd parts of his life. There was always of 
course the chance that the propriety might be challenged 
challenged by readers of a knowledge greater than mine. Yet 
knowledge, after all, of what? My vision of the aspects I 
more or less fortunately rendered was, exactly, my knowl- 
edge. If I made my appearances live, what was this but the 
utmost one could do with them? Let me at the same time not 
deny that, in answer to probable ironic reflexions on the full 
license for sketchiness and vagueness and dimness taken indeed 
by my picture, I had to bethink myself in advance of a defence 
of mv "artistic position," Should n't I find it in the happy con- 
tention that the value I wished most to render and the effect 
I wished most to produce were precisely those of our not 
knowing, of society's not knowing, but only guessing and 



suspecting and trying to ignore, what "goes on" irrecon- 
cileably, subversively, beneath the vast smug surface? I 
could n't deal with that positive quantity for itself my sub- 
ject had another too exacting side; but I might perhaps show 
the social ear as on occasion applied to the ground, or catch 
some gust o the hot breath that I had at many an hour seemed 
to see escape and hover. What it all came back to was, no 
doubt, something like this wisdom that if you haven't, for 
fiction, the root of the matter in you, have n't the sense of life 
and the penetrating imagination, you are a fool in the very 
presence of the revealed and assured; but that if you are so 
armed you are not really helpless, not without your resource, 
even before mysteries abysmal. 


I PROFESS a certain vagueness o remembrance in respect to 
the origin and growth of "The Tragic Muse," which ap- 
peared in "The Atlantic Monthly" again, beginning January 
1889 and running on, inordinately, several months beyond 
its proper twelve. If it be ever of interest and profit to put 
one's finger on the productive germ of a work of art, and 
if in fact a lucid account o any such work involves that 
prime identification, I can but look on the present fiction as 
a poor fatherless and motherless, a sort of unregistered and 
unacknowledged birth. I fail to recover my precious first 
moment of consciousness of the idea to which it was to give 
form; to recognise in it as I like to do in general the effect 
of some particular sharp impression or concussion. I call 
such remembered glimmers always precious, because without 
them comes no clear vision of what one may have intended, 
and without that vision no straight measure of what one may 
have succeeded in doing. What I make out from furthest 
back is that I must have had from still further back, must 
in fact practically have always had, the happy thought of 
some dramatic picture of the "artist-life" and of the diffi- 
cult terms on which it is at the best secured and enjoyed, 
the general question of its having to be not altogether easily 
paid for. To "do something about art" art, that is, as a 
human complication and a social stumbling-block must have 
been for me early a good deal of a nursed intention, the con- 
flict between art and "the world" striking me thus betimes 
as one of the half-dozen great primary motives. I remember 



-even having taken for granted with this fond inveteracy that 
no one o these pregnant themes was likely to prove under the 
test more full of matter. This being the case, meanwhile, what 
would all experience have done but enrich one's conviction? 
since if on the one hand I had gained a more and more 
intimate view of the nature of art and the conditions there- 
with imposed, so the world was a conception that clearly 
required, and that would for ever continue to take, any amount 
of filling-in. The happy and fruitful truth, at all events, was 
that there was opposition why there should be was another 
matter and that the opposition would beget an infinity of 
situations. What had doubtless occurred in fact, moreover, 
was that just this question of the essence and the reasons of the 
opposition had shown itself to demand the light of experi- 
ence; so that to the growth of experience, truly, the treatment 
of the subject had yielded. It had waited for that advantage 
Yet I continue to see experience giving me its jog mainl) 
in the form of an invitation from the gentle editor of "The 
Atlantic," the late Thomas Bailey Aldrich, to contribute tc 
his pages a serial that should run through the year. Thai 
friendly appeal becomes thus the most definite statement ] 
can make of the "genesis" of the book; though from th< 
moment of its reaching me everything else in the matter seem: 
to live again. What lives not least, to be quite candid, i 
the fact that I was to see this production make a virtual end 
for the time, as by its sinister effect though for reasons stil 
obscure to me of the pleasant old custom of the "running' 
of the novel. Not for many years was I to feel the practice 
for my benefit, confidingly revive. The influence of "Thi 
Tragic Muse" was thus exactly other than what I had a] 
earnestly (if of course privately enough) invoked for it, an< 
I remember well the particular chill, at last, of the sense of m 
having launched it in a great grey void from which no ech< 
or message whatever would come back. None, in the even! 
ever came, and as I now read the book over I find the circum 



stance make, in its name, for a special tenderness of charity; 
even for that finer consideration hanging in the parental breast 
about the maimed or slighted, the disfigured or defeated, the 
unlucky or unlikely child with this hapless small mortal 
thought of further as somehow "compromising," I am thus 
able to take the thing as having quite wittingly and undis- 
turbedly existed for itself alone, and to liken it to some 
aromatic bag of gathered herbs of which the string has never 
been loosed; or, better still, to some jar of potpourri, shaped 
and overfigured and polished, but of which the lid, never 
lifted, has provided for the intense accumulation of the fra- 
grance within. The consistent, the sustained, preserved tone 
of "The Tragic Muse," its constant and doubtless rather fine* 
drawn truth to its particular sought pitch and accent, are, criti- 
cally speaking, its principal merit the inner harmony that I 
perhaps presumptuously permit myself to compare to an 
unevaporated scent. 

After which indeed I may well be summoned to say what 
I mean, in such a business, by an appreciable "tone" and 
how I can justify my claim to it a demonstration that will 
await us later. Suffice it just here that I find the latent 
historic clue in my hand again with the easy recall of my 
prompt grasp of such a chance to make a story about art. 
There was my subject this time all mature with having 
long waited, and with the blest dignity that my original 
perception of its value was quite lost in the mists of youth. 
I must long have carried in my head the notion of a young 
man who should amid difficulty the difficulties being the 
story have abandoned "public life" for the zealous pursuit 
of some supposedly minor craft; just as, evidently, there 
had hovered before me some possible picture (but all comic 
and ironic) of one of the most salient London "social" pas- 
sions, the unappeasable curiosity for the things of the theatre; 
for every one of them, that is, except the drama itself, and 
for the "personality" of the performer (almost any performer 



quite sufficiently serving) in particular. This latter, verily, 
had struck me as an aspect appealing mainly to satiric treat- 
ment; the only adequate or effective treatment, I had again 
and again felt, for most of the distinctively social aspects of 
London: the general artlessly histrionised air of things caused 
so many examples to spring from behind any hedge. What 
came up, however, at once, for my own stretched canvas, was 
that it would have to be ample, give me really space to turn 
round, and that a single illustrative case might easily be 
meagre fare. The young man who should "chuck" admired 
politics, and of course some other admired object with them, 
would be all very well; but he wouldn't be enough there- 
fore what should one say to some other young man who 
would chuck something and somebody else, admired in their 
way too? 

There need never, at the worst, be any difficulty about the 
things advantageously chuckable for art; the question is all 
but of choosing them in the heap. Yet were I to represent 
a struggle an interesting one, indispensably with the pas- 
sions of the theatre (as a profession, or at least as an absorp- 
tion) I should have to place the theatre in another light than 
the satiric. This, however, would by good luck be perfectly 
possible too without a sacrifice of truth; and I should doubt- 
less even be able to make my theatric case as important as I 
might desire it. It seemed clear that I needed big cases 
small ones would practically give my central idea away; and 
I make out now my still labouring under the illusion that the 
case of the sacrifice for art can ever be, with truth, with taste, 
with discretion involved, apparently and showily "big." I dare 
say it glimmered upon me even then that the very sharpest 
difficulty of the victim of the conflict I should seek to repre- 
sent, and the very highest interest of his predicament, dwell 
deep in the fact that his repudiation of the great obvious, great 
moral or functional or useful character, shall just have to 
consent to resemble a surrender for absolutely nothing. Those 



characters are all large and expansive, seated and established 
and endowed; whereas the most charming truth about the 
preference for art is that to parade abroad so thoroughly in- 
ward and so naturally embarrassed a matter is to falsify and 
vulgarise it; that as a preference attended with the honours 
of publicity it is indeed nowhere; that in fact, under the 
rule of its sincerity, its only honours are those of contraction, 
concentration and a seemingly deplorable indifference to 
everything but itself. Nothing can well figure as less "big," in 
an honest thesis, than a marked instance of somebody's will- 
ingness to pass mainly for an ass. Of these things I must, I 
say, have been in strictness aware; what I perhaps failed of 
was to note that if a certain romantic glamour (even that 
of mere eccentricity or of a fine perversity) may be flung over 
the act of exchange of a "career" for the aesthetic life in gen- 
eral, the prose and the modesty of the matter yet come in 
with any exhibition of the particular branch of aesthetics 
selected. Then it is that the attitude of hero or heroine may 
look too much for the romantic effect like a low crouch- 
ing over proved trifles. Art indeed has in our day taken on 
so many honours and emoluments that the recognition of 
its importance is more than a custom, has become on occa- 
sion almost a fury: the line is drawn especially in the Eng- 
lish world only at the importance of heeding what it may 

The more I turn my pieces over, at any rate, the more 
I now see I must have found in them, and I remember how, 
once well in presence of my three typical examples, my fear 
of too ample a canvas quite dropped. The only question was 
that if I had marked my political case, from so far back, for 
"a story by itself," and then marked my theatrical case for 
another, the joining together o these interests, originally 
seen as separate, might, all disgracefully, betray the seam, 
show for mechanical and superficial. A story was a story, 
a picture a picture, and I had a mortal horror of two stories, 



two pictures, in one. The reason of this was the clearest 

m y subject was immediately, under that disadvantage, so 

cheated of its indispensable centre as to become of no more 
use for expressing a main intention than a wheel without 
a hub is of use for moving a cart. It was a fact, apparently, 
that one had on occasion seen two pictures in one; were there 
not for instance certain sublime Tintorettos at Venice, a 
measureless Crucifixion in especial, which showed without 
loss of authority half a dozen actions separately taking place? 
Yes, that might be, but there had surely been nevertheless a 
mighty pictorial fusion, so that the virtue of composition had 
somehow thereby come all mysteriously to its own. Of course 
the affair would be simple enough if composition could be 
kept out of the question; yet by what art or process, what 
bars and bolts, what unmuzzled dogs and pointed guns, 
perform that feat? I had to know myself utterly inapt 
for any such valour and recognise that, to make it possible, 
sundry things should have begun for me much further back 
than I had felt them even in their dawn. A picture without 
composition slights its most precious chance for beauty, and 
is moreover not composed at all unless the painter knows 
how that principle of health and safety, working as an abso- 
lutely premeditated art, has prevailed. There may in its ab- 
sence be life, incontestably, as "The Newcomes" has life, 
as "Les Trois Mousquetaires," as Tolstoi's "Peace and War," 
have it; but what do such large loose baggy monsters, with 
their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary, 
artistically mean? We have heard it maintained, we will 
remember, that such things are "superior to art"; but we 
understand least of all what that may mean, and we look 
in vain for the artist, the divine explanatory genius, who 
will come to our aid and tell us. There is life and life, and 
as waste is only life sacrificed and thereby prevented from 
"counting," I delight in a deep-breathing economy and an 
organic form. My business was accordingly to "go in" o> 


complete pictorial fusion, some such common interest be- 
tween my two first notions as would, in spite of their birth 
under quite different stars, do them no violence at all. 

I recall with this confirmed infatuation of retrospect that 
through the mild perceptions I here glance at there struck 
for "The Tragic Muse" the first hour of a season of no 
small subjective felicity; lighted mainly, I seem to see, by 
a wide west window that, high aloft, looked over near and 
far London sunsets, a half-grey, half-flushed expanse of Lon- 
don life. The production of the thing, which yet took a 
good many months, lives for me again all contemporane- 
ously in that full projection, upon my very table, of the good 
fog-filtered Kensington mornings; which had a way indeed 
of seeing the sunset in and which at the very last are merged 
to memory in a different and a sharper pressure, that of an 
hotel bedroom in Paris during the autumn of 1889, with 
the Exposition du Centenaire about to end and my long 
story, through the usual difficulties, as well. The usual diffi- 
culties and I fairly cherish the record as some adventurer 
in another line may hug the sense of his inveterate habit 
of just saving in time the neck he ever undiscourageably risks 
were those bequeathed as a particular vice of the artistic 
spirit, against which vigilance had been destined from the 
first to exert itself in vain, and the effect of which was that 
again and again, perversely, incurably, the centre of my struc- 
ture would insist on placing itself not, so to speak, in the 
middle. It mattered little that the reader with the idea or the 
suspicion of a structural centre is the rarest of friends and 
of critics a bird, it would seem, as merely fabled as the 
phoenix: the terminational terror was none the less certain to 
break in and my work threaten to masquerade for me as an 
active figure condemned to the disgrace of legs too short, ever 
so much too short, for its body. I urge myself to the candid 
confession that in very few of my productions, to my eye, has 
the organic centre succeeded in getting into proper position. 



Time after time, then, has the precious waistband or girdle, 
studded and buckled and placed for brave outward show, 
practically worked itself, and in spite o desperate remon- 
strance, or in other words essential counterplotting, to a point 
perilously near the kneesperilously I mean for the freedom 
of these parts. In several of my compositions this displacement 
has so succeeded, at the crisis, in defying and resisting me, 
has appeared so fraught with probable dishonour, that I still 
turn upon them, in spite of the greater or less success of final 
dissimulation, a rueful and wondering eye. These productions 
have in fact, if I may be so bold about it, specious and spurious 
centres altogether, to make up for the failure of the true. As 
to which in my list they are, however, that is another busi- 
ness, not on any terms to be made known. Such at least would 
seem my resolution so far as I have thus proceeded. Of any 
attention ever arrested by the pages forming the object of this 
reference that rigour of discrimination has wholly and con- 
sistently failed, I gather, to constitute a part. In which fact 
there is perhaps after all a rough justice since the infirmity I 
speak of, for example, has been always but the direct and im- 
mediate fruit of a positive excess of foresight, the overdone 
desire to provide for future need and lay up heavenly treasure 
against the demands of my climax. If the art of the drama, as 
a great French master of it has said, is above all the art of 
preparations, that is true only to a less extent of the art of the 
novel, and true exactly in the degree in which the art of the 
particular novel comes near that of the drama. .The first half 
of a fiction insists ever on figuring to me as the stage or theatre 
for the second half, and I have in general given so much space 
to making the theatre propitious that my halves have too often 
proved strangely unequal. Thereby has arisen with grim regu- 
larity the question of artfully, of consummately masking the 
fault and conferring on the false quantity the brave appear- 
ance of the true. 

But I am far from pretending that these desperations of 



ingenuity have not as through seeming most of the very 
essence of the problem their exasperated charm; so far from 
it that my particular supreme predicament in the Paris hotel, 
after an undue primary leakage of time, no doubt, over at 
the great river-spanning museum of the Champ de Mars and 
the Trocadero, fairly takes on to me now the tender grace 
of a day that is dead. Re-reading the last chapters of "The 
Tragic Muse" I catch again the very odour of Paris, which 
comes up in the rich rumble of the Rue de la Paix with which 
my room itself, for that matter, seems impregnated and which 
hangs for reminiscence about the embarrassed effort to "fin- 
ish," not ignobly, within my already exceeded limits; an effort 
prolonged each day to those late afternoon hours during which 
the tone of the terrible city seemed to deepen about one to an 
effect strangely composed at once of the auspicious and the 
fatal. The "plot" of Paris thickened at such hours beyond any 
other plot in the world, I think; but there one sat meanwhile 
with another, on one's hands, absolutely requiring precedence. 
Not the least imperative of one's conditions was thus that one 
should have really, should have finely and (given one's scale) 
concisely treated one's subject, in spite of there being so much 
of the confounded irreducible quantity still to treat. If I spoke 
just now, however, of the "exasperated" charm of supreme 
difficulty, that is because the challenge of economic repre- 
sentation so easily becomes, in any of the arts, intensely in- 
teresting to meet. To put all that is possible of one's idea 
into a form and compass that will contain and express it 
only by delicate adjustments and an exquisite chemistry, so 
that there will at the end be neither a drop of one's liquor 
left nor a hair's breadth of the rim of one's glass to spare 
every artist will remember how often that sort of necessity 
has carried with it its particular inspiration. Therein lies the 
secret of the appeal, to his mind, of the successfully fore- 
shortened thing, where representation is arrived at, as I have 
already elsewhere had occasion to urge, not by the addition 


of items (a light that has for its attendant shadow a possible 
dryness) but by the art of figuring synthetically, a compact- 
ness into which the imagination may cut thick, as into the 
rich density of wedding-cake. The moral of all which in- 
deed, I fear, is, perhaps too trivially, but that the "thick," 
the false, the dissembling second half of the work before me, 
associated throughout with the effort to weight my dramatic 
values as heavily as might be, since they had to be so few, 
presents that effort as at the very last a quite convulsive, yet 
in its way highly agreeable, spasm. Of such mild prodigies is 
the "history" of any specific creative effort composed! 

But I have got too much out of the "old" Kensington 
light of twenty years ago a lingering oblique ray of which, 
to-day surely quite extinct, played for a benediction over my 
canvas. From the moment I made out, at my high-perched 
west window, my lucky title, that is from the moment Miriam 
Rooth herself had given it me, so this young woman had 
given me with it her own position in the book, and so that 
in turn had given me my precious unity, to which no more 
than Miriam was either Nick Dormer or Peter Sherringham 
to be sacrificed. Much of the interest of the matter was imme- 
diately therefore in working out the detail of that unity and 
always entrancing range of questions the order, the reason, 
the relation, of presented aspects. With three general aspects, 
that of Miriam's case, that of Nick's and that of Sherring- 
ham's there was work in plenty cut out; since happy as it 
might be to say "My several actions beautifully become one," 
the point of the affair would be in showing them beautifully 
become so without which showing foul failure hovered and 
pounced. Well, the pleasure of handling- an action (or, other- 
wise expressed, of a "story") is at the worst, for a storyteller, 
immense, and the interest of such a question as for example 
keeping Nick Dormer's story his and yet making it also and 
all effectively in a large part Peter Sherringham's, of keeping 
Sherringham's his and yet making it in its high degree his- 


kinsman's, too, and Miriam Rooth's into the bargain; just as 
Miriam Rooth's is by the same token quite operatively his 
and Nick's, and just as that of each of the young men, by an 
equal logic, very contributively hers the interest of such a 
question, I say, is ever so considerably the interest of the system 
on which the whole thing is done. I see to-day that it was but 
half a system to say: "Oh Miriam, a case herself, is the lin\ 
between the two other cases"; that device was to ask for as 
much help as it gave and to require a good deal more appli- 
cation than it announced on the surface. The sense of a 
system saves the painter from the baseness of the arbitrary 
stroke, the touch without its reason, but as payment for that 
service the process insists on being kept impeccably the right 

These are intimate truths indeed, of which the charm 
mainly comes out but on experiment and in practice; yet I 
like to have it well before me here that, after all, "The Tragic 
Muse" makes it not easy to say which of the situations con- 
cerned in it predominates and rules. What has become in 
that imperfect order, accordingly, of the famous centre of 
one's subject? It is surely not in Nick's consciousnesssince 
why, if it be, are we treated to such an intolerable dose of 
Sherringham's? It can't be in Sherringham's we have for 
that altogether an excess of Nick's. How on the other hand 
can it be in Miriam's, given that we have no direct exhibi- 
tion of hers whatever, that we get at it all inferentially and 
inductively, seeing it only through a more or less bewildered 
interpretation of it by others. The emphasis is all on an 
absolutely objective Miriam, and, this affirmed, how with 
such an amount of exposed subjectivity all round her can so 
dense a medium be a centre? Such questions as those go 
straight thanks to which they are, I profess, delightful; go- 
ing straight they are of the sort that makes answers pos- 
sible. Miriam is central then to analysis, in spite of being 
objective; central in virtue of the fact that the whole thing 


has visibly, from the first, to get itself done in dramatic, or 
at least in scenic conditions though scenic conditions which 
are as near an approach to the dramatic as the novel may 
permit itself and which have this in common with the latter, 
that they move in the light of alternation. This imposes a 
consistency other than that of the novel at its loosest, and, 
for one's subject, a different view and a different placing of 
the centre. The charm of the scenic consistency, the con- 
sistency of the multiplication of aspects, that of making them 
amusingly various, had haunted the author of "The Tragic 
Muse" from far back, and he was in due course to yield to 
it all luxuriously, too luxuriously perhaps, in "The Awk- 
ward Age," as will doubtless with the extension of these 
remarks be complacently shown. 

To put himself at any rate as much as possible under the 
protection of it had been ever his practice (he had notably done 
so in "The Princess Casamassima," so frankly panoramic and 
processional); and in what case could this protection have 
had more price than in the one before us? No character 
in a play (any play not a mere monologue) has, for the right 
expression of the thing, a usurping consciousness; the con- 
sciousness of others is exhibited exactly in the same way as that 
of the "hero"; the prodigious consciousness of Hamlet, the 
most capacious and most crowded, the moral presence the most 
asserted, in the whole range of fiction, only takes its turn with 
that of the other agents of the story, no matter how occasional 
these may be. It is left in other words to answer for itself 
equally with theirs: wherefore (by a parity of reasoning if not 
of example) Miriam's might without inconsequence be placed 
on the same footing; and all in spite of the fact that the "moral 
presence" of each of the men most importantly concerned with 
her or with the second of whom she at least is importantly 
concerned zV independently answered for. The idea of the 
book being, as I have said, a picture of some of the personal 
consequences of the art-appetite raised to intensity, swollen 



to voracity, the heavy emphasis falls where the symbol of some 
of the complications so begotten might be made (as I judged, 
heaven forgive me!) most "amusing": amusing I mean in the 
blest very modern sense. I never "go behind" Miriam; only 
poor Sherringham goes, a great deal, and Nick Dormer goes 
a little, and the author, while they so* waste wonderment, 
goes behind them: but none the less she is as thoroughly 
symbolic, as functional, for illustration of the idea, as either 
of them, while her image had seemed susceptible of a livelier 
and "prettier" concretion. I had desired for her, I remember, 
all manageable vividness so ineluctable had it long appeared 
to "do the actress," to touch the theatre, to meet that con- 
nexion somehow or other, in any free plunge of the specula- 
tive fork into the contemporary social salad. 

The late R. L. Stevenson was to write to me, I recall 
and precisely on the occasion of "The Tragic Muse" that 
he was at a loss to conceive how one could find an interest 
in anything so vulgar or pretend to gather fruit in so scrubby 
an orchard; but the view of a creature of the stage, the 
view of the "histrionic temperament," as suggestive much 
less, verily, in respect to the poor stage per se than in respect 
to *art" at large, affected me in spite of that as Justly tenable. 
An objection of a more pointed order was forced upon me 
by an acute friend later on and in another connexion: the 
challenge of one's right, in any pretended show of social real- 
ities, to attach to the image of a "public character," a sup- 
posed particular celebrity, a range of interest, of intrinsic 
distinction, greater than any such display of importance on 
the part of eminent members of the class as we see them 
about us. There was a nice point if one would yet only nice 
enough, after all, to be easily amusing. We shall deal with it 
later on, however, in a more urgent connexion. What would 
have worried me much more had it dawned earlier is the 
light lately thrown by that admirable writer M. Anatole France 
on the question of any animated view of the histrionic tem- 


peramenta light that may well dazzle to distress any in- 
genuous worker in the same field. In those parts of Ms brief 
but inimitable Histoire Comique on which he is most to be 
congratulatedfor there are some that prompt to reserves- 
he has "done the actress/' as well as the actor, done above all 
the mountebank, the mummer and the cabotin, and mixed 
them up with the queer theatric air, in a manner that practi- 
cally warns all other hands off the material for ever. At the 
same time I think I saw Miriam, and without a sacrifice of 
truth, that is of the particular glow of verisimilitude I wished 
her most to benefit by, in a complexity of relations finer than 
any that appear possible for the gentry of M. Anatole France. 
Her relation to Nick Dormer, for instance, was intended 
as a superior interest that of being (while perfectly sin- 
cere, sincere for her, and therefore perfectly consonant with 
her impulse perpetually to perform and with her success in 
performing) the result of a touched imagination, a touched 
pride for "art," as well as of the charm cast on other sensi- 
bilities still. Dormer's relation to herself is a different matter, 
of which more presently; but the sympathy she, poor young 
woman, very generously and intelligently offers him where 
most people have so stinted it, is disclosed largely at the cost 
of her egotism and her personal pretensions, even though in 
fact determined by her sense of their together, Nick and she, 
postponing the "world" to their conception of other and 
finer decencies. Nick can't on the whole see for I have rep- 
resented him as in his day quite sufficiently troubled and 
anxious why he should condemn to ugly feebleness his most 
prized faculty (most prized, at least, by himself) even in 
order to keep his seat in Parliament, to inherit Mr. Carteret's 
blessing and money, to gratify his mother and carry out the 
mission of his father, to marry Julia Dallow in fine, a beauti- 
ful imperative woman with a great many thousands a year. 
It all comes back in the last analysis to the individual vision 
of decency, the critical as well as the passionate judgment of 



It under sharp stress; and Nick's vision and judgment, all 
on the aesthetic ground, have beautifully coincided, to Miri- 
am's imagination, with a now fully marked, an inspired and 
impenitent, choice of her own: so that, other considerations 
powerfully aiding indeed, she is ready to see their interest 
all splendidly as one. She is in the uplifted state to which 
sacrifices and submissions loom large, but loom so just because 
they must write sympathy, write passion, large. Her measure 
<o what she would be capable of for him capable, that is, of 
not asking of him will depend on what he shall ask of her, 
but she has no fear of not being able to satisfy him, even to the 
point of "chucking" for him, if need be, that artistic identity 
of her own which she has begun to build up. It will all be to 
the glory therefore of their common infatuation with "art"; 
she will doubtless be no less willing to serve his than she was 
eager to serve her own, purged now of the too great shrillness. 
This puts her quite on a different level from that of the 
vivid monsters of M. France, whose artistic identity is the 
last thing they wish to chuck their only dismissal is of all 
material and social overdraping. Nick Dormer in point of fact 
asks of Miriam nothing but that she shall remain "awfully in- 
teresting to paint"; but that is his relation, which, as I say, 
is quite a matter by itself. He at any rate, luckily for both 
of them it may be, doesn't put her to the test: he is so busy 
with his own case, busy with testing himself and feeling 
his reality. He had seen himself as giving up precious things 
for an object, and that object has somehow not been the young 
woman in question, nor anything very nearly like her. She 
on the other hand has asked everything of Peter Sherringham, 
who has asked everything of her; and it is in so doing that 
she has really most testified for art and invited him to testify. 
With his professed interest in the theatre-one of those 
deep subjections that, in men of "taste," the Comedie Fran- 
^aise used in old days to conspire for and some such odd 
and affecting examples of which were to be noted he yet 



offers her his hand and an introduction to the very best society 
if she will leave the stage. The power and her having the 
sense o the power to "shine" in the world is his highest 
measure o her, the test applied by him to her beautiful human 
value; just as the manner in which she turns on him is the 
application of her own standard and touchstone. She is per- 
fectly sure of her own; for if there were nothing else, and 
there is much she has tasted blood, so to speak, in the form 
of her so prompt and auspicious success with the public, 
leaving all probations behind (the whole of which, as the book 
gives it, is too rapid and sudden, though inevitably so: proc- 
esses, periods, intervals, stages, degrees, connexions, may be 
easily enough and barely enough named, may be unconvinc- 
ingly stated, in fiction, to the deep discredit o the writer, but it 
remains the very deuce to represent them, especially represent 
them under strong compression and in brief and subordinate 
terms; and this even though the novelist who does n't represent, 
and represent "all the time," is lost, exactly as much lost as the 
painter who, at his work and given his intention, does n't paint 
"all the time"). 

Turn upon her friend at any rate Miriam does; and one 
of my main points is missed if it fails to appear that she does 
so with absolute sincerity and with the cold passion of the 
high critic who knows, on sight of them together, the more 
or less dazzling false from the comparatively grey-coloured 
true. Sherringham's whole profession has been that he re- 
joices in her as she is, and that the theatre, the organised 
theatre, will be, as Matthew Arnold was in those very days 
pronouncing it, irresistible; and it is the promptness with 
which he sheds his pretended faith as soon as it feels in the 
air the breath of reality, as soon as it asks of him a proof or 
a sacrifice, it is this that excites her doubtless sufficiently ar- 
rogant scorn. Where is the virtue of his high interest if it 
has verily never been an interest to speak of and if all it has 
suddenly to suggest is that, in face of a serious call, it shall 



be unblushingly relinquished? If he and she together, and her 
great field and future, and the whole cause they had armed 
and declared for, have not been serious things they have been 
base make-believes and trivialities which is what in fact the 
homage of society to art always turns out so soon as art pre- 
sumes not to be vulgar and futile. It is immensely the fashion 
and immensely edifying to listen to, this homage, while it 
confines its attention to vanities and frauds; but it knows only 
terror, feels only horror, the moment that, instead of making 
all the concessions, art proceeds to ask for a few. Miriam is 
nothing if not strenuous, and evidently nothing if not ''cheeky," 
where Sherringham is concerned at least: these, in the all- 
egotistical exhibition to which she is condemned, are the very 
elements of her figure and the very colours of her portrait. But 
she is mild and inconsequent for Nick Dormer (who demands 
of her so little) ; as if gravely and pityingly embracing the truth 
that his sacrifice, on the right side, is probably to have very 
little of her sort of recompense. I must have had it well before 
me that she was all aware of the small strain a great sacrifice to 
Nick would cost her by reason of the strong effect on her of 
his own superior logic, in which the very intensity of concen- 
tration was so to find its account, 

If the man, however, who holds her personally dear yet 
holds her extremely personal message to the world cheap, so 
the man capable of a consistency and, as she regards the mat- 
ter, of an honesty so much higher than Sherringham's, vir- 
tually cares, "really" cares, no straw for his fellow straggler. 
If Nick Dormer attracts and ail-indifferently holds her it is 
because, like herself and unlike Peter, he puts "art" first; but 
the most he thus does for her in the event is to let her see how 
she may enjoy, in intimacy, the rigour it has taught him and 
which he cultivates at her expense. This is the situation in 
which we leave her, though there would be more still to be 
said about the difference for her of the two -elations that to- 
each of the men could I fondly suppose as much of the 



interest of the book "left over" for the reader as for myself, 
Sherringham for instance offers Miriam marriage, ever so 
"handsomely"; but if nothing might lead me on further than 
the question of what it would have been open to us us novel- 
ists, especially in the old days to show, "serially," a young 
man in Nick Dormer's quite different position as offering or 
a young woman in Miriam's as taking, so for that very reason 
such an excursion is forbidden me. The trade of the stage- 
player, and above all of the actress, must have so many de- 
testable sides for the person exercising it that we scarce imagine 
a full surrender to it without a full surrender, not less, to every 
immediate compensation, to every freedom and the largest 
ease within reach: which presentment of the possible case for 
Miriam would yet have been condemned and on grounds 
both various and interesting to trace to remain very imper- 

I feel moreover that I might still, with space, abound in 
remarks about Nick's character and Nick's crisis suggested 
to my present more reflective vision. It strikes me, alas, that 
he is not quite so interesting as he was fondly intended to 
be, and this in spite of the multiplication, within the picture, 
of his pains and penalties; so that while I turn this slight 
anomaly over I come upon a reason that affects me as sin- 
gularly charming and touching and at which indeed I have 
already glanced. Any presentation of the artist in triumph 
must be flat in proportion as it really sticks to its subject- 
it can only smuggle in relief and variety. For, to put the mat' 
ter in an image, all we then in his triumph see of the 
charm-compeller is the back he turns to us as he bends over 
his work. "His" triumph, decently, is but the triumph of 
what he produces, and that is another affair. His romance is 
the romance he himself projects; he eats the cake of the very 
rarest privilege, the most luscious baked in the oven of the 
gods therefore he may n't "have" it, in the form of the privi- 
lege of the hero, at the same time. The privilege of the 



that is of the martyr or of the interesting and appealing and 
comparatively floundering person places him in quite a dif- 
ferent category, belongs to him only as to the artist deluded, 
diverted, frustrated or vanquished; when the "amateur" in 
him gains, for our admiration or compassion or whatever, all 
that the expert has to do without. Therefore I strove in vain, 
I feel, to embroil and adorn this young man on whom a 
hundred ingenious touches are thus lavished: he has insisted 
in the event on looking as simple and flat as some mere brass 
check or engraved number, the symbol and guarantee of a 
stored treasure. The better part of him is locked too much 
away from us, and the part we see has to pass for well, what 
it passes for, so larnentedly, among his friends and relatives. 
No, accordingly, Nick Dormer isn't "the best thing in the 
book," as I judge I imagined he would be, and it contains noth- 
ing better, I make out, than that preserved and achieved unity 
and quality of tone, a value in itself, which I referred to at the 
beginning of these remarks. What I mean by this is that the 
interest created, and the expression of that interest, are things 
kept, as to kind, genuine and true to themselves. The appeal, 
the fidelity to the prime motive, is, with no little art, strained 
clear (even as silver is polished) in a degree answering at 
least by intention to the air of beauty. There is an awkward- 
ness again in having thus belatedly to point such features out; 
but in that wrought appearance of animation and harmony, 
that effect of free movement and yet of recurrent and insistent 
reference, "The Tragic Muse" has struck me again as con- 
scious of a bright advantage. 




I RECALL with perfect ease the idea in which "The Awkward 
Age" had its origin., but re-perusal gives me pause in respect 
to naming it. This composition, as it stands, makes, to my 
vision and will have made perhaps still more to that of its 
leaders so considerable a mass beside the germ sunk in it 
and still possibly distinguishable, that I am half -moved to leave 
my small secret undivulged. I shall encounter, I think, in the 
course of this copious commentary, no better example, and 
none on behalf of which I shall venture to invite more interest., 
of the quite incalculable tendency of a mere grain of subject- 
matter to expand and develop and cover the ground when con- 
ditions happen to favour it. I say all, surely, when I speak of 
the thing as planned, in perfect good faith, for brevity, for 
levity, for simplicity, for jocosity, in fine, and for an accomo- 
dating irony. I invoked, for my protection, the spirit of the 
lightest comedy, but "The Awkward Age" was to belong, in 
the event, to a group of productions, here re-introduced, which 
have in common, to their author's eyes, the endearing sign that 
they asserted in each case an unforeseen principle of growth. 
They were projected as small things, yet had finally to be pro- 
vided for as comparative monsters. That is my own title for 
them, though I should perhaps resent it if applied by another 
critic above all in the case of the piece before us, the careful 
measure of which I have just freshly taken. The result of this 
consideration has been in the first place to render sharp for me 
again the interest of the whole process thus illustrated, and in 


the second quite to place me on unexpectedly good terms with 
the work itself. As I scan my list I encounter none the "his- 
tory" of which embodies a greater number of curious truths 
or of truths at least by which I find contemplation more en- 
livened. The thing done and dismissed has ever, at the best, 
for the ambitious workman, a trick of looking dead, if not 
buried, so that he almost throbs with ecstasy when, on an 
anxious review, the flush of life reappears. It is verily on 
recognising that flush on a whole side of "The Awkward 
Age" that I brand it all, but ever so tenderly, as monstrous 
which is but my way of noting the quantity of finish it stows 
away. Since I speak so undauntedly, when need is, of the 
value of composition, I shall not beat about the bush to claim 
for these pages the maximum of that advantage. If such a feat 
be possible in this field as really taking a lesson from one's 
own adventure I feel I have now not failed of it to so much 
more demonstration of my profk than I can hope to carry 
through do I find myself urged. Thus it is that, still with a 
remnant of self-respect, or at least of sanity, one may turn to 
complacency, one may linger with pride. Let my pride pro- 
voke a frown till I justify it; which though with more mat- 
ters to be noted here than I have room for I shall accordingly 
proceed to do. 

Yet I must first make a brave face, no doubt, and present 
in its native humility my scant but quite ponderable germ. 
The seed sprouted in that vast nursery of sharp appeals and 
concrete images which calls itself, for blest convenience, Lon- 
don; it fell even into the order of the minor "social phenom- 
ena" with which, as fruit for the observer, that mightiest of the 
trees of suggestion bristles. It was not, no doubt> a fine pur- 
ple peach, but it might pass for a round ripe plum, the note 
one had inevitably had to take of the difference made in 
certain friendly houses and for certain flourishing mothers 
by the sometimes dreaded, often delayed, but never fully ar- 
rested coming to the forefront of some vague slip of a daugh- 



ter. For such mild revolutions as these not, to one's imagi- 
nation, to remain mild one had had, I dare say, to be infinitely 
addicted to "noticing"; under the rule of that secret vice or 
that unfair advantage, at any rate, the "sitting downstairs," 
from a given date, of the merciless maiden previously perched 
aloft could easily be felt as a crisis. This crisis, and the sense 
for it in those whom it mast concerns, has to confess itself 
courageously the prime propulsive force of "The Awkward 
Age," Such a matter might well make a scant show for a 
"thick book," and no thick book, but just a quite charmingly 
thin one, was in fact originally dreamt of. For its proposed 
scale the little idea seemed happy happy, that is, above all in 
having come very straight; but its proposed scale was the limit 
of a small square canvas. One had been present again and 
again at the exhibition I refer to which is what I mean by the 
"coming straight" of this particular London impression; yet 
one was (and through fallibilities that after all had their sweet- 
ness, so that one would on the whole rather have kept them 
than parted with them) still capable of so false a measurement. 
When I think indeed of those of my many false measurements 
that have resulted, after much anguish, in decent symmetries, I 
find the whole case, I profess, a theme for the philosopher. The 
little ideas one would n't have treated save for the design 
of keeping them small, the developed situations that one would 
never with malice prepense have undertaken, the long stories 
that had thoroughly meant to be short, the short subjects that 
had underhandedly plotted to be long, the hypocrisy of modest 
beginings, the audacity of misplaced middles, the triumph of 
intentions never entertained -with these patches, as I look 
about, I see my experience paved: an experience to which noth- 
ing is wanting save, I confess, some grasp of its final lesson. 

This lesson would, if operative, surely provide some law 
for the recognition, the determination in advance, of the just 
limits and the just extent of the situation, any situation, that 
appeals, and that yet, by the presumable, the helpful law of 



situations, must have its reserves as well as its promises. The 
storyteller considers it because it promises, and undertakes it, 
often, just because also making out, as he believes, where the 
promise conveniently drops. The promise, for instance, of the 
case I have just named, the case of the account to be taken, 
in a circle of free talk, of a new and innocent, a wholly un- 
acclimatised presence, as to which such accommodations have 
never had to come up, might well have appeared as limited as 
it was lively; and if these pages were not before us to register 
my illusion I should never have made a braver claim for it. 
They themselves admonish me, however, in fifty interesting 
ways, and they especially emphasise that truth of the vanity 
of the a priori test of what an idee-mere may have to give. The 
truth is that what a happy thought has to give depends im- 
mensely on the general turn of the mind capable of it, and on 
the fact that its loyal entertainer, cultivating fondly its pos- 
sible relations and extensions, the bright efflorescence latent 
in it, but having to take other things in their order too, is 
terribly at the mercy of his mind. That organ has only to ex- 
hale, in its degree, a fostering tropic air in order to produce 
complications almost beyond reckoning. The trap laid for his 
superficial convenience resides in the fact that, though the rela- 
tions of a human figure or a social occurrence are what make 
such objects interesting, they also make them, to the same tune, 
difficult to isolate, to surround with the sharp black line, to 
frame in the square, the circle, the charming oval, that helps 
any arrangement of objects to become a picture. The story- 
teller has but to have been condemned by nature to a liber^ 
ally amused and beguiled, a richly sophisticated, view of re- 
lations and a fine inquisitive speculative sense for them, to 
find himself at moments flounder in a deep warm jungle. 
These are the moments at which he recalls ruefully that the 
great merit of such and such a small case, the merit for his 
particular advised use, had been precisely in the smallness. 
I may say at once that this had seemed to me, under the 



first flush of recognition, the good mark for the pretty notion 
of the "free circle' 9 put about by having, of a sudden, an 
ingenuous mind and a pair of limpid searching eyes to count 
with. Half the attraction was in the current actuality of the 
thing: repeatedly, right and left, as I have said, one had seen 
such a drama constituted, and always to the effect of pro- 
posing to the interested view one of those questions that are 
of the essence of drama: what will happen, who suffer, who 
not suffer, what turn be determined, what crisis created, what 
issue found? There had of course to be, as a basis, the free 
circle, but this was material of that admirable order with 
which the good London never leaves its true lover and be- 
liever long unprovided. One could count them on one's fin- 
gers (an abundant allowance), the liberal firesides beyond the 
wide glow of which, in a comparative dimness, female ado- 
lescence hovered and waited. The wide glow was bright, was 
favourable to "real" talk, to play of mind, to an explicit in- 
terest in life, a due demonstration of the interest by persons 
qualified to feel it: all of which meant frankness and ease, 
the perfection, almost, as it were, of intercourse, and a tone 
as far as possible removed from that of the nursery and the 
schoolroom as far as possible removed even, no doubt, in 
its appealing "modernity," from that of supposedly privileged 
scenes of conversation twenty years ago. The charm was, with 
a hundred other things, in the freedom the freedom menaced 
by the inevitable irruption of the ingenuous mind; whereby, 
if the freedom should be sacrificed, what would truly become 
of the charm? The charm might be figured as dear to mem- 
bers of the circle consciously contributing to it, but it was none 
the less true that some sacrifice in some quarter would have 
to be made, and what meditator worth his salt could fail to 
hold his breath while waiting on the event? The ingenuous 
mind might, it was true, be suppressed altogether, the general 
disconcertment averted either by some master-stroke of diplo- 
macy or some rude simplification; yet these were ugly matters, 



and in the examples before one's eyes nothing ugly, nothing 
harsh or crude, had flourished. A girl might be married off the 
day after her irruption, or better still the day before it, to 
remove her from the sphere of the play of mind; but these 
were exactly not crudities, and even then, at the worst, an in- 
terval had to be bridged. "The Awkward Age" is precisely a 
study of one of these curtailed or extended periods of tension 
and apprehension, an account of the manner in which the 
resented interference with ancient liberties came to be in a par- 
ticular instance dealt with. 

I note once again that I had not escaped seeing it actually 
and traceably dealt with after (I admit) a good deal of 
friendly suspense; also with the nature and degree of the "sac- 
rifice" left very much to one's appreciation. In circles highly 
civilised the great things, the real things, the hard, the cruel 
and even the tender things, the true elements of any tension 
and true facts of any crisis, have ever, for the outsider's, for 
the critic's use, to be translated into terms terms in the dis- 
tinguished name of which, terms for the right employment of 
which, more than one situation of the type I glance at had 
struck me as all irresistibly appealing. There appeared in fact 
at moments no end to the things they said, the suggestions into 
which they flowered; one of these latter in especial arriving at 
the highest intensity. Putting vividly before one the perfect 
system on which the awkward age is handled in most other 
European societies, it threw again into relief the inveterate 
English trick of the so morally well-meant and so intellectually 
helpless compromise. We live notoriously, as I suppose every 
age lives, in an "epoch of transition"; but it may still be said 
of the French for instance, I assume, that their social scheme 
absolutely provides against awkwardness. That is it would be, 
by this scheme, so infinitely awkward, so awkward beyond any 
patching-up, for the hovering female young to be conceived 
as present at "good" talk, that their presence is, theoretically 
at least, not permitted till their youth has been promptly cor^ 



rected by marriage in which case they have ceased to be 
merely young. The better the talk prevailing in any circle, ac- 
cordingly, the more organised, the more complete, the element 
of precaution and exclusion. Talk giving the term a wide 
application is one thing, and a proper inexperience another; 
and it has never occurred to a logical people that the interest 
of the greater, the general, need be sacrificed to that of the 
less, the particular. Such sacrifices strike them as gratuitous and 
barbarous, as cruel above all to the social intelligence; also 
as perfectly preventable by wise arrangement. Nothing comes 
home more, on the other hand, to the observer of English man- 
ners than the very moderate degree in which wise arrangement, 
in the French sense of a scientific economy, has ever been in- 
voked; a fact indeed largely explaining the great interest of 
their incoherence, their heterogeneity, their wild abundance. 
The French, all analytically, have conceived of fifty different 
proprieties, meeting fifty different cases, whereas the English 
mind, less intensely at work, has never conceived but of one 
the grand propriety, for every case, it should in fairness be 
said, of just being English. As practice, however, has always 
to be a looser thing than theory, so no application of that 
rigour has been possible in the London world without a thou- 
sand departures from the grim ideal. 

The American theory, if I may "drag it in," would be, I 
think, that talk should never become "better" than the female 
young, either actually or constructively present, are minded to 
allow it. That system involves as little compromise as the 
French; it has been absolutely simple, and the beauty of its 
success shines out in every record of our conditions of inter- 
course premising always our "basic" assumption that the fe- 
male young read the newspapers. The English theory may be 
in itself almost as simple, but different and much more com- 
plex forces have ruled the application of it; so much does the 
goodness of talk depend on what there may be to talk about. 
There are more things in London, I think, than anywhere in 



the world; hence the charm of the dramatic struggle reflected 
in my book, the struggle somehow to fit propriety into a 
smooth general case which is really all the while bristling and 
crumbling into fierce particular ones. The circle surrounding 
Mrs. Brookenham, in my pages, is of course nothing if not a 
particular, even a "peculiar" one and its rather vain effort (the 
vanity, the real inexpertness, being precisely part of my tale) is 
toward the courage of that condition. It has cropped up in a 
social order where individual appreciations of propriety have 
not been formally alowed for, in spite of their having very often 
quite rudely and violently and insolently, rather of course than 
insidiously, flourished; so that as the matter stands, rightly or 
wrongly, Nanda's retarded, but eventually none the less real, 
incorporation means virtually Nanda's exposure. It means this, 
that is, and many things beside means them for Nanda her- 
self and, with a various intensity, for the other participants in 
the action; but what it particularly means, surely, is the failure 
of successful arrangement and the very moral, sharply pointed, 
of the fruits of compromise. It is compromise that has suffered 
her to be in question at all, and that has condemned the free- 
dom of the circle to be self-conscious, compunctious, on the 
whole much more timid than brave the consequent muddle, 
if the term be not too gross, representing meanwhile a great 
inconvenience for life, but, as I found myself feeling, an im- 
mense promise, a much greater one than on the "foreign" show- 
ing, for the painted picture of life. Beyond which let me add 
that here immediately is a prime specimen of the way in which 
the obscurer, the lurking relations of a motive apparently sim- 
ple, always in wait for their spring, may by seizing their chance 
for it send simplicity flying. Poor Nanda's little case, and 
her mother's, and Mr. Longdon's and Vanderbank's and 
Mitchy's, to say nothing of that of the others, has only to catch 
a reflected light from over the Channel in order to double at 
once its appeal to the imagination. (I am considering all these 
matters, I need scarce say, only as they are concerned with that 



faculty. With a relation not imaginative to his material the 
storyteller has nothing whatever to do.) 

It exactly happened moreover that my own material here 
was to profit in a particular way by that extension of view. My 
idea was to be treated with light irony it would be light and 
ironical or it would be nothing; so that I asked myself, natu- 
rally, what might be the least solemn form to give it, among 
recognised and familiar forms. The question thus at once 
arose: What form so familiar, so recognised among alert read- 
ers, as that in which the ingenious and inexhaustible, the 
charming philosophic "Gyp" casts most of her social studies? 
Gyp had long struck me as mistress, in her levity, of one of 
the happiest of forms the only objection to my use of which 
was a certain extraordinary benightedness on the part of the 
Anglo-Saxon reader. One had noted this reader as perverse 
and inconsequent in respect to the absorption of "dialogue" 
observed the "public for fiction" consume it, in certain con- 
nexions, on the scale and with the smack of lips that mark the 
consumption of bread-and-jam by a children's school-feast, 
consume it even at the theatre, so far as our theatre ever vouch- 
safes it, and yet as flagrantly reject it when served, so to speak, 
au natureL One had seen good solid slices of fiction, well en- 
dued, one might surely have thought, with this easiest of lubri- 
cations, deplored by editor and publisher as positively not, for 
the general gullet as known to them, made adequately "slick." 
" 'Dialogue,' always 'dialogue'!" I had seemed from far back 
to hear them mostly cry: "We can't have too much of it, we 
can't have enough of it, and no excess of it, in the form of no 
matter what savourless dilution, or what boneless dispersion, 
ever began to injure a book so< much as even the very scantest 
claim put in for form and substance." This wisdom had al- 
ways been in one's ears; but it had at the same time been 
equally in one's eyes that really constructive dialogue, dialogue 
organic and dramatic, speaking for itself, representing and 
embodying substance and form, is among us an uncanny and 



abhorrent thing, not to be dealt with on any terms. A comedy 
or a tragedy may run for a thousand nights without prompting 
twenty persons in London or in New York to desire that view 
of its text which is so desired in Paris, as soon as a play begins 
to loom at all large, that the number of copies of the printed 
piece in circulation far exceeds at last the number of perform- 
ances. But as with the printed piece our own public, infatuated 
as it may be with the theatre, refuses all commerce though 
indeed this can't but be, without cynicism, very much through 
the infirmity the piece, // printed, would reveal so the same 
horror seems to attach to any typographic hint of the pro- 
scribed playbook or any insidious plea for it. The immense 
oddity resides in the almost exclusively typographic order of 
the offence. An English, an American Gyp would typographi- 
cally offend, and that would be the end of her. There gloomed 
at me my warning, as well as shone at me my provocation, in 
respect to the example of this delightful writer. I might emu- 
late her, since I presumptuously would, but dishonour would 
await me if, proposing to treat the different faces of my subject 
in the most completely instituted colloquial form, I should 
evoke the figure and affirm the presence of participants by the 
repeated and prefixed name rather than by the recurrent and 
a/fixed "said he" and "said she." All I have space to go into 
here much as the funny fact I refer to might seem to invite us 
to dance hand in hand round it is that I was at any rate duly 
admonished, that I took my measures accordingly, and that the 
manner in which I took them has lived again for me ever so 
arrestingly, so amusingly, on re-examination of the book. 

But that I did, positively and seriously ah so seriously! 
emulate the levity of Gyp and, by the same token, of that hardi- 
est of flowers fostered in her school., M. Henri Lavedan, is a 
contribution to the history of "The Awkward Age" that I 
shall obviously have had to brace myself in order to make. 
Vivid enough to me the expression of face of any kindest of 
critics, even, moved to declare that he would never in the least 



have suspected it. Let me say at once, in extenuation of the 
too respectful distance at which I may thus have appeared to 
follow my model, that my first care had to be the covering of 
my tracks lest I truly should be caught in the act of arranging, 
of organising dialogue to- "speak for itself." What I now see 
to have happened is that I organised and arranged but too well 
too well, I mean, for any betrayal of the Gyp taint, however 
faded and feeble. The trouble appears to have been that while 
I on the one hand exorcised the baleful association, I succeeded 
in rousing on nobody's part a sense of any other association 
whatever, or of my having cast myself into any conceivable or 
calculable form. My private inspiration had been in the Gyp 
plan (artfully dissimulated, for dear life, and applied with the 
very subtlest consistency, but none the less kept in secret view) ; 
yet I was to fail to make out in the event that the book suc- 
ceeded in producing the impression of any plan on any person. 
No hint of that sort of success, or of any critical perception at 
all in relation to the business, has ever come my way; in spite 
of which when I speak, as just above, of what was to "happen" 
under the law of my ingenious labour, I fairly lose myself in 
the vision of a hundred bright phenomena. Some of these inci- 
dents I must treat myself to naming, for they are among the 
best I shall have on any occasion to retail. But I must first give 
the measure of the degree in which they were mere matters of 
the study. This composition had originally appeared in "Har- 
per's Weekly" during the autumn of 1898 and the first weeks 
of the winter, and the volume containing it was published that 
spring. I had meanwhile been absent from England, and it 
was not till my return, some time later, that I had from my 
publisher any news of our venture. But the news then met at 
a stroke all my curiosity: "I'm sorry to say the book has done 
nothing to speak of; I've never in all my experience seen one 
treated with more general and complete disrespect." There was 
thus to be nothing left me for fond subsequent reference of 
which I doubtless give even now so adequate an illustration 



save the rich reward of the singular interest attaching to the 
very intimacies of the effort. 

It comes back to me, the whole "job," as wonderfully amus- 
ing and delightfully difficult from the first; since amusement 
deeply abides, I think, in any artistic attempt the basis and 
groundwork of which are conscious of a particular firmness. 
On that hard fine floor the element of execution feels it may 
more or less confidently dance; in which case puzzling ques- 
tions, sharp obstacles, dangers of detail, may come up for it by 
the dozen without breaking its heart or shaking its nerve. It 
is the difficulty produced by the loose foundation or the vague 
scheme that breaks the heart when a luckless fatuity has over- 
persuaded an author of the "saving" virtue of treatment. Be- 
ing "treated" is never, in a workable idea, a mere passive con- 
dition, and I hold no subject ever susceptible of help that is n't, 
like the embarrassed man of our proverbial wisdom, first of 
all able to help itself. I was thus to have here an envious 
glimpse, in carrying my design through, of that artistic rage 
and that artistic felicity which I have ever supposed to be in- 
tensest and highest, the confidence of the dramatist strong in 
the sense of his postulate. The dramatist has verily to build, 
is committed to architecture, to construction at any cost; to 
driving in deep his vertical supports and laying across and 
firmly fixing his horizontal, his resting pieces at the risk of 
no matter what vibration from the tap of his master-hammer. 
This makes the active value of his basis immense, enabling 
him, with his flanks protected, to advance undistractedly, even 
if not at all carelessly, into the comparative fairy-land of the 
mere minor anxiety. In other words his scheme holds, and 
as he feels this in spite of noted strains and under repeated 
tests, so he keeps his face to the day. I rejoiced, by that same 
token, to feel my scheme hold, and even a little ruefully 
watched it give me much more than I had ventured to hope. 
For I promptly found my conceived arrangement of my ma- 
terial open the door wide to ingenuity. I remember that in 



sketching my project for the conductors of the periodical I have 
named I drew on a sheet of paper and possibly with an effect 
of the cabalistic, it now comes over me, that even anxious am- 
plification may have but vainly attenuated the neat figure of 
a circle consisting of a number of small rounds disposed at 
equal distance about a central object. The central object was 
my situation, my subject in itself, to which the thing would 
owe its title, and the small rounds represented so many distinct 
lamps, as I liked to call them, the function of each of which 
would be to light with all due intensity one of its aspects. I 
had divided it, didn't they see? into aspects uncanny as the 
little term might sound (though not for a moment did I sug- 
gest we should use it for the public), and by that sign we would 

They "saw," all genially and generously for I must add that 
I had made, to the best of my recollection, no morbid scruple 
of not blabbing about Gyp and her strange incitement I the 
more boldly held my tongue over this that the more I, by my 
intelligence, lived in my arrangement and moved about in it, 
the more I sank into satisfaction. It was clearly to work to a 
charm and, during this processby calling at every step for 
an exquisite management "to haunt, to startle and waylay." 
Each of my "lamps" would be the light of a single "social occa- 
sion" in the history and intercourse of the characters concerned, 
and would bring out to the full the latent colour of the scene 
in question and cause it to illustrate, to the last drop, its bear- 
ing on my theme. I revelled in this notion of the Occasion as 
a thing by itself, really and completely a scenic thing, and could 
scarce name it, while crouching amid the thick arcana of my 
plan, with a large enough O. The beauty of the conception was 
in this approximation of the respective divisions of my form to 
the successive Acts of a Play as to which it was more than 
ever a case for charmed capitals. The divine distinction of the 
act of a play and a greater than any other it easily succeeds in 
arriving at was, I reasoned, in its special, its guarded objec- 



tivity. This objectivity, in turn, when achieving its ideal, came 
from the imposed absence of that "going behind," to compass 
explanations and amplifications, to drag out odds and ends 
from the "mere" storyteller's great property-shop of aids to 
illusion: a resource under denial of which it was equally per- 
plexing and delightful, for a change, to proceed. Everything, 
for that matter, becomes interesting from the moment it has 
closely to consider, for full effect positively to bestride, the law 
of its kind. "Kinds" are the very life of literature, and truth 
and strength come from the complete recognition of them, 
from abounding to the utmost in their respective senses and 
sinking deep into their consistency. I myself have scarcely to 
plead the cause of "going behind," which is right and beauti- 
ful and fruitful in its place and order; but as the confusion of 
kinds is the inelegance of letters and the stultification of values, 
so to renounce that line utterly and do something quite differ- 
ent instead may become in another connexion the true course 
and the vehicle of effect. Something in the very nature, in the 
fine rigour, of this special sacrifice (which is capable of affect- 
ing the form-lover, I think, as really more of a projected form 
than any other) lends it moreover a coercive charm; a charm 
that grows in proportion as the appeal to it tests and stretches 
and strains it, puts it powerfully to the touch. To make the 
presented occasion tell all its story itself, remain shut up in its 
own presence and yet on that patch of staked-out ground be- 
come thoroughly interesting and remain thoroughly clear, is 
a process not remarkable, no doubt, so long as a very light 
weight is laid on it, but difficult enough to challenge and in- 
spire great adroitness so soon as the elements to be dealt with 
begin at all to "size up." 

The disdainers of the contemporary drama deny, obviously, 
with all promptness, that the matter to be expressed by its 
means richly and successfully expressed that is can loom 
with any largeness; since from the moment it does one of the 
conditions breaks down. The process simply collapses under 



pressure, they contend, proves its weakness as quickly as the 
office laid on it ceases to be simple. "Remember," they say to 
the dramatist, "that you have to be, supremely, three things: 
you have to be true to your form, you have to be interesting, 
you have to be clear. You have in other words to prove your- 
self adequate to taking a heavy weight. But we defy you really 
to conform to your conditions with any but a light one. Make 
the thing you have to convey, make the picture you have to 
paint, at all rich and complex, and you cease to be clear. Re- 
main clear and with the clearness required by the infantine 
intelligence of any public consenting to see a play and what 
becomes of the 'importance' of your subject? If it's important 
by any other critical measure than the little foot-rule the 'pro- 
duced' piece has to conform to, it is predestined to be a mud- 
dle. When it has escaped being a muddle the note it has suc- 
ceeded in striking at the furthest will be recognised as one of 
those that are called high but by the courtesy, by the intellectual 
provinciality, of theatrical criticism, which, as we can see for 
ourselves any morning, is well, an abyss even deeper than 
the theatre itself. Don't attempt to crush us with Dumas and 
Ibsen, for such values are from any informed and enlightened 
point of view, that is measured by other high values, literary, 
critical, philosophic, of the most moderate order. Ibsen and 
Dumas are precisely cases of men, men in their degree, in 
their poor theatrical straight-jacket, speculative, who have had 
to renounce the finer thing for the coarser, the thick, in short, 
for the thin and the curious for the self-evident. What earthly 
intellectual distinction, what 'prestige' of achievement, would 
have attached to the substance of such things as 'Denise,* as 
'Monsieur Alphonse,' as 'Francillon' (and we take the Dumas 
of the supposedly subtler period) in any other form? What 
virtues of the same order would have attached to 'The Pillars 
of Society/ to 'An Enemy of the People,' to 'Ghosts, 5 to 'Ros- 
mersholm' (or taking also Ibsen's 'subtler period') to 'John 
Gabriel Borkmann/ to 'The Master-Builder'? Ibsen is in fact 



wonderfully a case in point, since from the moment he's clear, 
from the moment he's 'amusing,' it's on the footing of a thesis 
as simple and superficial as that of *A Doll's House' while 
from the moment he's by apparent intention comprehensive 
and searching it's on the footing of an effect as confused and 
obscure as The Wild Duck.' From which you easily see all 
the conditions can't be met. The dramatist has to choose but 
those he's most capable of, and by that choice he's known." 

So the objector concludes, and never surely without great 
profit from his having been "drawn." His apparent triumph 
if it be even apparent still leaves, it will be noted, con- 
venient cover for retort in the riddled face of the opposite 
stronghold. The last word in these cases is for nobody who 
can't pretend to an absolute test. The terms here used, ob* 
viously, are matters of appreciation, and there is no short cut 
to proof (luckily for us all round) either that "Monsieur 
Alphonse" develops itself on the highest plane of irony or 
that "Ghosts" simplifies almost to excruciation. If "John 
Gabriel Borkmann" is but a pennyworth of effect as to a 
character we can imagine much more amply presented, and 
if "Hedda Gabler" makes an appeal enfeebled by remarkable 
vagueness, there is by the nature of the case no catching 
the convinced, or call him the deluded, spectator or reader 
in the act of a mistake. He is to be caught at the worst in 
the act of attention, of the very greatest attention, and that 
is all, as a precious preliminary at least, that the playwright 
asks of him, besides being all the very divinest poet can get. 
I remember rejoicing as much to remark this, after getting 
launched in "The Awkward Age," as if I were in fact con- 
structing a play; just as I may doubtless appear now not less 
anxious to keep the philosophy of the dramatist's course 
before me than if I belonged to his order. I felt, certainly, 
the support he feels, I participated in his technical amuse- 
ment, I tasted to the full the bitter-sweetness of his draught 
the beauty and the difficulty (to harp again on that string) 


of escaping poverty even though the references in one's action 
can only be, with intensity, to each other, to things exactly 
on the same plane of exhibition with themselves. Exhibi- 
tion may mean in a "story" twenty different ways, fifty 
excursions, alternatives, excrescences, and the novel, as largely 
practised in English, is the perfect paradise of the loose end. 
The play consents to the logic of but one way, mathematically 
right, and with the loose end as gross an impertinence on its 
surface, and as grave a dishonour, as the dangle of a snippet 
of silk or wool on the right side of a tapestry. We are shut 
up wholly to cross-relations, relations all within the action it- 
self; no part of which is related to anything but some other 
part save of course by the relation of the total to life. And, 
after invoking the protection of Gyp, I saw the point of my 
game all in the problem of keeping these conditioned relations 
crystalline at the same time that I should, in emulation of life, 
consent to their being numerous and fine and characteristic 
of the London world (as the London world was in this quar- 
ter and that to be deciphered). All of which was to make in 
the event for complications. 

I see now of course how far, with my complications, I got 
away from Gyp; but I see to-day so much else too that this 
particular deflexion from simplicity makes scarce a figure 
among the others; after having once served its purpose, I 
mean, of lighting my original imitative innocence. For I rec- 
ognise in especial, with a waking vibration of that interest 
ia which, as I say, the plan of the book is embalmed for me, 
that my subject was probably condemned in advance to ap- 
preciable, or more exactly perhaps to almost preposterously 
appreciative, over-treatment. It places itself for me thus in 
a group of small productions exhibiting this perversity, repre- 
sentations of conceived cases in which my process has been 
to pump the case gaspingly dry, dry not only of superfluous 
moisture, but absolutely (for I have encountered the charge) 
of breatheable air- I may note, in fine, that coming back to 



the pages before us with a strong impression of their record- 
ing, to my shame, that disaster, even to the extent of its 
disqualifying them for decent reappearance, I have found the 
adventure taking, to my relief, quite another turn, and have 
lost myself in the wonder of what "over-treatment" may, in 
the detail of its desperate ingenuity, consist of. The revived 
interest I speak of has been therefore that of following criti- 
cally, from page to page, even as the red Indian tracks in the 
forest the pale-face, the footsteps of the systematic loyalty 
I was able to achieve. The amusement of this constatation is, 
as I have hinted, in the detail of the matter, and the detail is 
so dense, the texture of the figured and smoothed tapestry so 
close, that the genius of Gyp herself, muse of general loose- 
ness, would certainly, once warned, have uttered the first 
disavowal of my homage. But what has occurred meanwhile 
is that this high consistency has itself, so to speak, consti- 
tuted an exhibition, and that an important artistic truth has 
seemed to me thereby lighted. We brushed against that truth 
just now in our glance at the denial of expansibility to any 
idea the mould of the "stage-play" may hope to express with- 
out cracking and bursting; and we bear in mind at the same 
time that the picture of Nanda Brookenham's situation, though 
perhaps seeming to a careless eye so to wander and sprawl, 
yet presents itself on absolutely scenic lines, and that each of 
these scenes in itself, and each as related to each and to all 
of its companions, abides without a moment's deflexion by the 
principle of the stage-play. 

In doing this then it does more it helps us ever so hap- 
pily to see the grave distinction between substance and form 
in a really wrought work of art signally break down. I hold 
it impossible to say, before "The Awkward Age," where 
one of these elements ends and the other begins: I have 
been unable at least myself, on re-examination, to mark any 
such joint or seam, to see the two discharged offices as sepa- 
rate. They are separate before the fact, but the sacrament of 



execution indissolubly marries them, and the marriage, like 
any other marriage, has only to be a "true" one for the scan- 
dal of a breach not to show. The thing "done/ 1 artistically, 
is a fusion, or it has not been done in which case of course 
the artist may be, and all deservedly, pelted with any frag- 
ment of his botch the critic shall choose to pick up. But 
his ground once conquered, in this particular field, he knows 
nothing of fragments and may say in all security: "Detach 
one if you can. You can analyse in your way, oh yes to 
relate, to report, to explain; but you can't disintegrate my 
synthesis; you can't resolve the elements of my whole into 
different responsible agents or find your way at all (for your 
own fell purpose). My mixture has only to be perfect liter- 
ally to bewilder you you are lost in the tangle of the forest. 
Prove this value, this effect, in the air of the whole result, 
to be of my subject, and that other value, other effect, to be 
of my treatment, prove that I have n't so shaken them to- 
gether as the conjurer I profess to be must consummately 
shake, and I consent but to parade as before a booth at the 
fair." The exemplary closeness of "The Awkward Age" even 
affects me, on re-perusal, I confess, as treasure quite instinct- 
ively and foreseeingly laid up against my present opportunity 
for these remarks. I have been positively struck by the quan- 
tity of meaning and the number of intentions, the extent of 
ground for interest, as I may call it, that I have succeeded in 
working scenically, yet without loss of sharpness, clearness or 
"atmosphere," into each of my illuminating Occasions: 
where, at certain junctures, the due preservation of all these 
values took, in the familiar phrase, a good deal of doing. 

I should have liked just here to re-examine with the reader 
some of the positively most artful passages I have in mind 
such as the hour of Mr. Longdon's beautiful and, as it were, 
mystic attempt at a compact with Vanderbank, late at night, 
in the billiard-room of the country-house at which they are 
staying; such as the other nocturnal passage, under Mr. Long- 



don's roof, between Vanderbank and Mitchy, where the con- 
duct of so much fine meaning, so many flares of the exhibitor^ 
torch through the labyrinth of mere immediate appearances, 
mere familiar allusions, is successfully and safely effected; such 
as the whole array of the terms of presentation that are made 
to serve, all systematically, yet without a gap anywhere, for the 
presentation, throughout, of a Mitchy "subtle" no less than 
concrete and concrete no less than deprived of that officious 
explanation which we know as "going behind"; such as, briefly, 
the general service of co-ordination and vivification rendered, 
on lines of ferocious, of really quite heroic compression, by the 
picture of the assembled group at Mrs. Grendon's, where the 
"cross-references" of the action are as thick as the green leaves 
of a garden, but none the less, as they have scenically to be, 
counted and disposed, weighted with responsibility. Were 
I minded to use in this connexion a "loud" word and the 
critic in general hates loud words as a man of taste may hate 
loud colours I should speak of the composition of the chap- 
ters entitled "Tishy Grendon," with all the pieces of the game 
on the table together and each unconfusedly and contributively 
placed, as triumphantly scientific. I must properly remind my- 
self, rather, that the better lesson of my retrospect would seem 
to be really a supreme revision of the question of what it may 
be for a subject to suffer, to call it suffering, by over-treatment. 
Bowed down so long by the inference that its product had in 
this case proved such a betrayal, my artistic conscience meets 
the relief of having to recognise truly here no traces of suffer- 
ing. The thing carries itself to my maturer and gratified sense 
as with every symptom of soundness, an insolence of health 
and joy. And from this precisely I deduce my moral; which is 
to the effect that, since our only way, in general, of knowing 
that we have had too much of anything is by jedtng that too 
much: so, by the same token, when we don't feel the excess 
(and I am contending, mind, that in "The Awkward Age" the 
multiplicity yields to the order) how do we know that the 



measure not recorded, the notch not reached, does represent 
adequacy or satiety? The mere feeling helps us for certain 
degrees of congestion, but for exact science, that is for the 
criticism of "fine" art, we want the notation. The notation, 
however, is what we lack, and the verdict of the mere feeling 
is liable to fluctuate. In other words an imputed defect is 
never, at the worst, disengageable, or other than matter for 
appreciation to come back to my claim for that felicity of the 
dramatist's case that his synthetic "whole" is his form, the 
only one we have to do with. I like to profit in his company 
by the fact that if our art has certainly, for the impression it 
produces, to defer to the rise and fall, in the critical temper- 
ature, of the telltale mercury, it -tf iU has n't to reckon with the 
engraved thermometer-face. 




IT was years ago, I remember, one Christmas Eve when I 
was dining with friends: a lady beside me made in the course 
of talk one of those allusions that I have always found myself 
recognising on the spot as "germs." The germ, wherever gath- 
ered, has ever been for me the germ of a "story," and most of 
the stories straining to shape under my hand have sprung from 
a single small seed, a seed as minute and wind-blown as that 
casual hint for "The Spoils of Poynton" dropped unwittingly 
by my neighbour, a mere floating particle in the stream of talk. 
What above all comes back to me with this reminiscence is the 
sense of the inveterate minuteness, on such happy occasions, of 
the precious particle reduced, that is, to its mere fruitful es- 
sence. Such is the interesting truth about the stray sugges- 
tion, the wandering word, the vague echo, at touch of which 
the novelist's imagination winces as at the prick of some 
sharp point: its virtue is all in its needle-like quality, the 
power to penetrate as finely as possible. This fineness it is 
that communicates the virus of suggestion, anything more 
than the minimum of which spoils the operation. If one is 
given a hint at all designedly one is sure to be given too much; 
one's subject is in the merest grain, the speck of truth, of 
beauty, of reality, scarce visible to the common eye since, I 
firmly hold, a good eye for a subject is anything but usual. 
Strange and attaching, certainly, the consistency with which 



the first thing to be done for the communicated and seized idea 
is to reduce almost to nought the form, the air as o a mere 
disjoined and lacerated lump of life, in which we may have 
happened to meet it. Life being all inclusion and confusion, 
and art being all discrimination and selection, the latter, in 
search of the hard latent value with which alone it is con- 
cerned, sniffs round the mass as instinctively and unerringly 
as a dog suspicious of some buried bone. The difference here, 
however, is that, while the dog desires his bone but to destroy 
it, the artist finds in his tiny nugget, washed free of awkward 
accretions and hammered into a sacred hardness, the very stuff 
for a clear affirmation, the happiest chance for the indestruc- 
tible. It at the same time amuses him again and again to note 
how, beyond the first step of the actual case, the case that 
constitutes far him his germ, his vital particle, his grain of 
gold, life persistently blunders and deviates, loses herself in 
the sand. The reason is of course that life has no direct sense 
whatever for the subject and is capable, luckily for us, of 
nothing but splendid waste. Hence the opportunity for the 
sublime economy of art, which rescues, which saves, and 
hoards and "banks," investing and reinvesting these fruits 
of toil in wondrous useful "works" and thus making up for 
us, desperate spendthrifts that we all naturally are, the most 
princely of incomes. It is the subtle secrets of that system, 
however, that are meanwhile the charming study, with an end- 
less attraction, above all, in the question endlessly baffling 
indeed of the method at the heart of the madness; the mad- 
ness, I mean, of a zeal, among the reflective sort, so disinter- 
ested. If life, presenting us the germ, and left merely to her- 
self in such a business, gives the case away, almost always, be- 
fore we can stop her, what are the signs for our guidance, what 
the primary laws for a saving selection, how do we know when 
and where to intervene, where do we place the beginnings 
of the wrong or the right deviation ? Such would be the ele- 
ments of an enquiry upon which, I hasten to say, it is quite 



forbidden me here to embark: I but glance at them in evidence 
of the rich pasture that at every turn surrounds the ruminant 
critic. The answer may be after all that mysteries here elude 
us, that general considerations fail or mislead, and that even 
the fondest of artists need ask no wider range than the logic 
of the particular case. The particular case, or in other words 
his relation to a given subject, once the relation is established, 
forms in itself a little world of exercise and agitation. Let him 
hold himself perhaps supremely fortunate if he can meet half 
the questions with which that air alone may swarm. 

So it was, at any rate, that when my amiable friend, on 
the Christmas Eve, before the table that glowed safe and fair 
through the brown London night, spoke of such an odd mat- 
ter as that a good lady in the north, always well looked on, 
was at daggers drawn with her only son, ever hitherto exem- 
plary, over the ownership of the valuable furniture of a fine 
old house just accruing to the young man by his father's 
death, I instantly became aware, with my "sense for the sub- 
ject," of the prick of inoculation; the whole of the virus, as I 
have called it, being infused by that single touch. There had 
been but ten words, yet I had recognised in them, as in a 
flash, all the possibilities of the little drama of my "Spoils," 
which glimmered then and there into life; so that when in 
the next breath I began to hear of action taken, on the beau- 
tiful ground, by our engaged adversaries, tipped each, from 
that instant, with the light of the highest distinction, I saw 
clumsy Life again at her stupid work. For the action taken, 
and on which my friend, as I knew she would, had already 
begun all complacently and benightedly further to report, 
I had absolutely, and could have, no scrap of use; one had 
been so perfectly qualified to say in advance: "It's the perfect 
little workable thing, but shell strangle it in the cradle, 
even while she pretends, all so cheeringly, to rock it; where- 
fore 111 stay her hand while yet there's time." I didn't, of 
course, stay her hand there never is in such cases "time"; 



and I had once more the full demonstration of the fatal futility 
of Fact. The turn taken by the excellent situation excellent, 
for devlopment, if arrested in the right place, that is in the 
germ had the full measure of the classic ineptitude; to which 
with the full measure of the artistic irony one could once 
more, and for the thousandth time, but take off one's hat. It 
was not, however, that this in the least mattered, once the seed 
had been transplanted to richer soil; and I dwell on that almost 
inveterate redundancy of the wrong, as opposed to the ideal 
right, in any free flowering of the actual, by reason only of its 
approach to calculable regularity. 

If there was nothing regular meanwhile, nothing more so 
than the habit of vigilance, in my quickly feeling where inter- 
est would really lie, so I could none the less acknowledge 
afresh that these small private cheers of recognition made 
the spirit easy and the temper bland for the confused whole. 
I "took" in fine, on the spot, to the rich bare little facts of 
the two related figures, embroiled perhaps all so sordidly; 
and for reasons of which I could most probably have given 
at the moment no decent account. Had I been asked why 
they were, in that stark nudity, to say nothing of that ugli- 
ness of attiude, "interesting," I fear I could have said noth- 
ing more to the point, even to my own questioning spirit, 
than "Well, youll see!" By which of course I should have 
meant "Well, / shall see" confident meanwhile (as against 
the appearance or the imputation of poor taste) that interest 
would spring as soon as one should begin really to see any- 
thing. That points, I think, to a large part of the very source of 
interest for the artist: it resides in the srong consciousness of his 
seeing all for himself. He has to borrow his motive, which is 
certainly half the battle; and this motive is his ground, his site 
and his foundation. But after that he only lends and gives, 
only builds and piles high, lays together the blocks quarried 
in the deeps of his imagination and on his personal premises. 
He thus remains all the while in intimate commerce with his 



motive, and can say to himself what really more than any- 
thing else inflames and sustains him that he alone has the 
secret of the particular case, he alone can measure the truth of 
the direction to be taken by his developed data. There can be 
for him, evidently, only one logic for these things; there can be 
for him only one truth and one direction the quarter in which 
his subject most completely expresses itself. The careful as- 
certainment of how it shall do so, and the art of guiding it 
with consequent authority since this sense of "authority" 
is for the master-builder the treasure of treasures, or at least the 
joy of joys renews in the modern alchemist something like 
the old dream of the secret of life. 

Extravagant as the mere statement sounds, one seemed ac- 
cordingly to handle the secret of life in drawing the positive 
right truth out of the so easy muddle of wrong truths in 
which the interesting possibilities of that "row," so to call 
it, between mother and son over their household gods might 
have been stifled. I find it odd to consider, as I thus revert, 
that I could have had none but the most general warrant for 
"seeing anything in it," as the phrase would have been; that 
I couldn't in the least, on the spot, as I have already hinted, 
have justified my faith. One thing was "in it," in the sordid 
situation, on the first blush, and one thing only though this, 
in its limited way, no doubt, a curious enough value: the 
sharp light it might project on that most modern of our cur- 
rent passions, the fierce appetite for the upholsterer's and join- 
er's and brazier's work, the chairs and tables, the cabinets and 
presses, the material odds and ends, of the more labouring 
ages, A lively mark of our manners indeed the diffusion of 
this curiosity and this avidity, and full of suggestion, clearly, 
as to their possible influence on other passions and other rela- 
tions. On the face of it the "things" themselves would form 
the very centre of such a crisis; these grouped objects, all con- 
scious of their eminence and their price, would enjoy, in any 
picture of a conflict, the heroic importance. They would have 



to be presented, they would have to be painted arduous and 
desperate thought; something would have to be done for them 
not too ignobly unlike the great array in which Balzac, say, 
would have marshalled them : that amount of workable interest 
at least would evidently be "in it." 

It would be wrapped in the silver tissue of some such 
conviction, at any rate, that I must have laid away my prime 
impression for a rest not disturbed till long afterwards, till 
the year 1896, I make out, when there arose a question of 
my contributing three "short stories" to "The Atlantic 
Monthly*'; or supplying rather perhaps a third to complete 
a trio two members of which had appeared* The echo of 
the situation mentioned to me at our Christmas Eve dinner 
awoke again, I recall, at that touch I recall, no doubt, with 
true humility, in view of my renewed mis measurement of 
my charge. Painfully associated for me had "The Spoils of 
Poynton" remained, until recent re-perusal, with the awkward 
consequence of that fond error. The subject had emerged 
from cool reclusion all suffused with a flush of meaning; 
thanks to which irresistible air, as I could but plead in the 
event, I found myself as against a mere commercial austerity 
beguiled and led on* The thing had "come," the flower 
of conception had bloomed all in the happy dusk of indif- 
ference and neglect; yet, strongly and frankly as it might 
now appeal, my idea would n't surely overstrain a natural 
brevity. A story that could n't possibly be long would have 
inevitably to be "short," and out of the depths of that delusion 
it accordingly began to struggle. To my own view, after the 
"first number," this composition (which in the magazine bore 
another title) conformed but to its nature, which was not to 
transcend a modest amplitude; but, dispatched in instalments, 
it felt itself eyed, from month to month, I seem to remember, 
with an editorial ruefulness excellently well founded from 
the moment such differences of sense could exist, that is, as 
to the short and the long. The sole impression it made, I woe- 



fully gathered, was that of length, and it has till lately, as I say, 
been present to me but as the poor little "long" thing. 

It began to appear in April 1896, and, as is apt blessedly 
to occur for me throughout this process of revision, the old, 
the shrunken concomitants muster again as I turn the pages. 
They lurk between the lines; these serve for them as the 
barred seraglio-windows behind which, to the outsider in the 
glare of the Eastern street, forms indistinguishable seem to 
move and peer; "association" in fine bears upon them with 
its infinite magic. Peering through the lattice from without 
inward I recapture a cottage on a cliff-side, to which, at the 
earliest approach of the summer-time, redoubtable in London 
through the luxuriance of still other than "natural" forces, 
I had betaken myself to finish a book in quiet and to begin 
another in fear. The cottage was, in its kind, perfection; 
mainly by reason of a small paved terrace which, curving 
forward from the cliff-edge like the prow of a ship, overhung 
a view as level, as purple, as full of rich change, as the ex- 
panse of the sea. The horizon was in fact a band of sea; fc 
a small red-roofed town, of great antiquity, perched on its 
sea-rock, clustered within the picture off to the right; while 
above one's head rustled a dense summer shade, that of a 
trained and arching ash, rising from the middle of the ter- 
race, brushing the parapet with a heavy fringe and covering 
the place like a vast umbrella. Beneath this umbrella and 
really under exquisite protection "The Spoils of Poynton" man- 
aged more or less symmetrically to grow. 

I recall that I was committed to begin, the day I finished 
it, short of dire penalties, "The Other House"; with which 
work, however, of whatever high profit the considerations 
springing from it might be too, we have nothing to do here 
and to the felt jealousy of which, as that of a grudging 
neighbour, I allude only for sweet recovery of the fact, 
mainly interesting to myself I admit, that the rhythm of the 
earlier book shows no flurry of hand. I "liked" it the ear- 



Her book: I venture now, after years, to welcome the sense 
of that amenity as well; so immensely refreshing is it to be 
moved, in any case, toward these retrospective simplicities. 
Painters and writers, I gather, are, when easily accessible to 
such appeals, frequently questioned as to those of their pro- 
ductions they may most have delighted in; but the profession 
of delight has always struck me as the last to consort, for 
the artist, with any candid account of his troubled effort 
ever the sum, for the most part, of so many lapses and com- 
promises, simplifications and surrenders. Which is the work 
in which he has n't surrendered, under dire difficulty, the best 
thing he meant to have kept? In which indeed, before the 
dreadful done, doesn't he ask himself what has become o 
the thing all for the sweet sake of which it was to proceed 
to that extremity? Preference and complacency, on these 
terms, riot in general as they best may; not disputing, how- 
ever, a grain of which weighty truth, I still make out, be- 
tween my reconsidered lines, as it were, that I must my 
opera-box of a terrace and my great green umbrella indeed 
aidinghave assisted at the growth and predominance o 
Fleda Vetch. 

For something like Fleda Vetch had surely been latent in 
one's first apprehension of the theme; it wanted, for treat- 
ment, a centre, and, the most obvious centre being "barred," 
this image, while I still wondered, had, with all the assurance 
m the world, sprung up in its place. The real centre, as I 
say, the citadel of the interest, with the fight waged round it, 
would have been the felt beauty and value of the prize of 
battle, the Things, always the splendid Things, placed in the 
middle light, figured and constituted, with each identity made 
vivid, each character discriminated, and their common con- 
sciousness of their great dramatic part established. The ren- 
dered tribute of these honours, however, no vigilant editor, as 
I have intimated, could be conceived as allowing room for; 
since, by so much as the general glittering presence should 



spread, by so much as it should suggest the gleam of brazen 
idols and precious metals and inserted gems in the tempered 
light of some arching place of worship, by just so much would 
the muse of "dialogue," most usurping influence of all the 
romancingly invoked, be routed without ceremony, to lay her 
grievance at the feet of her gods. The spoils of Poynton 
were not directly articulate, and though they might have, 
and constantly did have, wondrous things to say, their mes- 
sage fostered about them a certain hush of cheaper sound as a 
consequence of which, in fine, they would have been costly to 
keep up. In this manner Fleda Vetch, maintainable at less ex- 
pense though even she, I make out, less expert in spreading 
chatter thin than the readers of romance mainly like their 
heroines to-day marked her place in my foreground at one 
ingratiating stroke. She planted herself centrally, and the 
stroke, as I call it, the demonstration after which she could n't 
be gainsaid, was the simple act of letting it be seen she had 

For somehow that was the way interest broke out, once 
the germ had been transferred to the sunny south window- 
sill of one's fonder attention character, the question of what 
my agitated friends should individually, and all intimately 
and at the core, show themselves, would unmistakeably be the 
key to my modest drama, and would indeed alone make a 
drama of any sort possible. Yes, it is a story of cabinets and 
chairs and tables; they formed the bone of contention, but what 
would merely "become" of them, magnificently passive, seemed 
to represent a comparatively vulgar issue. The passions, the 
faculties, the forces their beauty would, like that of antique 
Helen of Troy, set in motion, was what, as a painter, one had 
really wanted of them, was the power in them that one had 
from the first appreciated. Emphatically, by that truth, there 
would have to be moral developments dreadful as such a 
prospect might loom for a poor interpreter committed to 
brevity. A character is interesting as it comes out, and by 



the process and duration of that emergence; just as a pro- 
cession is effective by the way it unrolls, turning to a mere 
mob if all of it passes at once. My little procession, I fore- 
saw then from an early stage, would refuse to pass at once; 
though I could keep it more or less down, of course, by re- 
ducing it to three or four persons. Practically, in "The Spoils," 
the reduction is to four, though indeed and I clung to that 
as to my plea for simplicity the main agents, with the others 
all dependent, are Mrs. Gereth and Fleda. Fleda's ingratiating 
stroke, for importance, on the threshold, had been that she 
would understand; and positively, from that moment, the 
progress and march of my tale became and remained that of 
her understanding. 

Absolutely, with this, I committed myself to making the 
affirmation and the penetration of it my action and my "story"; 
once more, too, with the re-entertained perception that a 
subject so lighted, a subject residing in somebody's excited 
and concentrated feeling about something both the something 
and the somebody being of course as important as possible- 
has more beauty to give out than under any other style of 
pressure. One is confronted obviously thus with the question 
of the importances; with that in particular, no doubt, of the 
weight of intelligent consciousness, consciousness of the whole, 
or of something ominously like it, that one may decently per- 
mit a represented figure to appear to throw. Some plea for 
this cause, that of the intelligence of the moved mannikin, I 
have already had occasion to make, and can scarce hopL. too 
often to evade it. This intelligence, an honourable amount of 
it, on the part of the person to whom one most invites atten- 
tion, has but to play with sufficient freedom and ease, or call it 
with the right grace, to guarantee us that quantum of the im- 
pression of beauty which is the most fixed of the possible ad- 
vantages of our producible effect. It may fail, as a positive 
presence, on other sides and in other connexions; but more or 
less of the treasure is stored safe from the moment such a 



quality of inward life is distilled, or in other words from the 
moment so fine an interpretation and criticism as that of Fleda 
Vetch's to cite the present case is applied without waste to 
the surrounding tangle. 

It is easy to object of course "Why the deuce then Fleda 
Vetch, why a mere little flurried bundle of petticoats, why 
not Hamlet or Milton's Satan at once, if you're going in 
for a superior display of *mind'?" To which I fear I can 
only reply that in pedestrian prose, and in the "short story," 
one is, for the best reasons, no less on one's guard than on 
the stretch; and also that I have ever recognised, even in 
the midst of the curiosity that such displays may quicken, 
the rule of an exquisite economy. The thing is to lodge 
somewhere at the heart of one's complexity an irrepressible 
appreciation, but where a light lamp will carry all the flame 
I incline to look askance at a heavy. From beginning to 
end, in "The Spoils of Poynton," appreciation, even to that 
of the very whole, lives in Fleda; which is precisely why, as 
a consequence rather grandly imposed, every one else shows 
for comparatively stupid; the tangle, the drama, the tragedy 
and comedy of those who appreciate consisting so much of 
their relation with those who don't. From the presented re- 
flexion of this truth my story draws, I think, a certain assured 
appearance of roundness and felicity. The "things" are radiant, 
shedding afar, with a merciless monotony, all their light, exert- 
ing their ravage without remorse; and Fleda almost demoni- 
cally both sees and feels, while the others but feel without see- 
ing. Thus we get perhaps a vivid enough little example, in the 
concrete, of the general truth, for the spectator of life, that the 
fixed constitutents of almost any reproducible action are the 
fools who minister, at a particular crisis, to the intensity of the 
free spirit engaged with them. The fools are interesting by con- 
trast, by the salience they acquire, and by a hundred other of 
their advantages; and the free spirit, always much tormented, 
and by no means always triumphant, is heroic, ironic, pathetic 



or whatever, and, as exemplified in the record of Fleda Vetch, 
for instance, "successful," only through having remained free. 

I recognise that the novelist with a weakness for that ground 
of appeal is foredoomed to a well-nigh extravagant insistence 
on the free spirit, seeing the possibility of one in every bush; 
I may perhaps speak of it as noteworthy that this very volume 
happens to exhibit in two other cases my disposition to let the 
interest stand or fall by the tried spontaneity and vivacity of the 
freedom. It is in fact for that respectable reason that I enclose 
"A London Life" and "The Chaperon" between these covers; 
my purpose having been here to class my reprintable produc- 
tions as far as possible according to their kinds. The two tales 
I have just named are of the same "kind" as "The Spoils," to the 
extent of their each dealing with a human predicament in 
the light, for the charm of the thing, of the amount of "ap- 
preciation" to be plausibly imputed to the subject of it. They 
are each and truly there are more of such to come "stories 
about women," very young women, who, affected with a cer- 
tain high lucidity, thereby become characters; in consequence 
of which their doings, their sufferings or whatever, take on, I 
assume, an importance. Laura Wing, in "A London Life," has, 
like Fleda Vetch, acuteness and intensity, reflexion and passion, 
has above all a contributive and participant view of her situa- 
tion; just as Rose Tramore, in "The Chaperon," rejoices, almost 
to insolence, very much in the same cluster of attributes and 
advantages. They are thus of a family which shall have also 
for us, we seem forewarned, more members, and of each sex. 

As to our young woman of "The Spoils," meanwhile, I 
briefly come back to my claim for a certain definiteness of 
beauty in the special effect wrought by her aid. My problem 
had decently to be met that of establishing for the other 
persons the vividness of their appearance of comparative 
stupidity, that of exposing them to the full thick wash of the 
penumbra surrounding the central light, and yet keeping their 
motions, within it, distinct, coherent and "amusing." But these 



are exactly of course the most "amusing" things to do; noth- 
ing, for example, being of a higher reward artistically than the 
shade of success aimed at in such a figure as Mrs. Gereth. A 
character she too, absolutely, yet the very reverse of a free 
spirit. I have found myself so pleased with Mrs. Gereth, I 
confess, on resuming acquaintance with her, that, complete 
and in all equilibrium as she seems to me to stand and move 
there, I shrink from breathing upon her any breath of qualifi- 
cation; without which, however, I fail of my point that, thanks 
to the "value" represented by Fleda, and to the position to 
which the elder woman is confined by that irradiation, the lat- 
ter is at the best a "false" character, floundering as she does in 
the dusk of disproportionate passion. She is a figure, oh defi- 
nitely which is a very different matter; for you may be a 
figure with all the blinding, with all the hampering passion 
in life, and may have the grand air in what shall yet prove 
to the finer view (which Fleda again, e. g., could at any time 
strike off) but a perfect rage of awkwardness. Mrs. Gereth 
was, obviously, with her pride and her pluck, of an admir- 
able fine paste; but she was not intelligent, was only clever, 
and therefore would have been no use to us at all as centre 
of our subject compared with Fleda, who was only intel- 
ligent, not distinctively able. The little drama confirms at 
all events excellently, I think, the contention of the old wis- 
dom that the question of the personal will has more than all 
else to say to the verisimilitude of these exhibitions. The 
will that rides the crisis quite most triumphantly is that of the 
awful Mona Brigstock, who is all will, without the smallest 
leak of force into taste or tenderness or vision, into any 
sense of shades or relations or proportions. She loses no 
minute in that perception of incongruities in which half 
Fleda's passion is wasted and misled, and into which Mrs. 
Gereth, to her practical loss, that is by the fatal grace of a 
sense of comedy, occasionally and disinterestedly strays. Every 
one, every thing, in the story is accordingly sterile but the 


so thriftily constructed Mona, able at any moment to bear the 
whole of her dead weight at once on any given inch of a resist- 
ing surface. Fleda, obliged to neglect inches, sees and feels but 
in acres and expanses and blue perspectives; Mrs. Gereth too, 
in comparison, while her imagination broods, drops half the 
stitches of the web she seeks to weave. 

If I speak of classifying I hasten to recognise that there 
are other marks for the purpose still and that, failing other 
considerations, a A London Life'* would properly consort, in 
this series, with a dozen of the tales by which I at one period 
sought to illustrate and enliven the supposed "international" 
conflict of manners; a general theme dealing for the most part 
with the bewilderment of the good American, of either sex and 
of almost any age, in presence of the "European" order. This 
group of data might possibly have shown, for the reverse of its 
medal, the more or less desperate contortions of the European 
under American social pressure. Three or four tried glances 
in that direction seemed to suggest, however, no great harvest 
to be gathered; so that the pictorial value of the general oppo- 
sition was practically confined to one phase. More reasons are 
here involved than I can begin to go into as indeed I confess 
that the reflexions set in motion by the international fallacy 
at large, as I am now moved to regard it, quite crowd upon me; 
I simply note therefore, on one corner of the ground, the scant 
results, above all for interesting detail, promised by confronting 
the fruits of a constituted order with the fruits of no order at 
all. We may strike lights by opposing order to order, one sort 
to another sort; for in that case we get the correspondences and 
equivalents that make differences mean something; we get 
the interest and the tension of disparity where a certain parity 
may have been in question. Where it may not have been in 
question, where the dramatic encounter is but the poor con- 
cussion of positives on one side with negatives on the other, 
we get little beyond a consideration of the differences between 
fishes and fowls. 



By which I don't mean to say that the appeal of the fal- 
lacy, as I call it, was not at one time quite inevitably irre- 
sistible; had it nothing else to recommend it to the imagina- 
tion it would always have had the advantage of its showy 
surface, of suggesting situations as to which assurance seemed 
easy, founded, as it felt itself, on constant observation. The at- 
traction was thus not a little, I judge, the attraction of facility; 
the international was easy to do, because, as one's wayside 
bloomed with it, one had but to put forth one's hand and pluck 
the frequent flower. Add to this that the flower was, so often, 
quite positively a flower that of the young American inno- 
cence transplanted to European air. The general subject had, 
in fine, a charm while it lasted; but I shall have much more to 
say about it on another occasion. What here concerns us is that 
"A London Life" breaks down altogether, I have had to recog- 
nise, as a contribution to my comprehensive picture of be- 
wildered Americanism. I fail to make out to-day why I need 
have conceived my three principal persons as sharers in that 
particular bewilderment. There was enough of the general 
human and social sort for them without it; poor young 
Wendover in especial, I think, fails on any such ground to 
attest himself I needn't, surely, have been at costs to bring 
him all the way from New York, Laura Wing, touching 
creature as she was designed to appear, strikes me as a rare 
little person who would have been a rare little person any- 
where, and who, in that character, must have felt and judged 
and suffered and acted as she did, whatever her producing 

The great anomaly, however, is Mrs. Lionel; a study of a 
type quite sufficiently to be accounted for on the very scene of 
her development, and with her signs and marks easily mistake- 
able, in London, for the notes of a native luxuriance. I recall 
the emphasis, quite the derison, with which a remarkably wise 
old friend, not American, a trenchant judge who had observed 
manners in many countries and had done me the honour to 

I 33 


read my tale, put to me: "What on earth possessed you to 
make of your Selina an American, or to make one of your 
two or three Americans a Selina? resembling so to the life 
something quite else, something which hereabouts one needn't 
go far to seek, but failing of any felicity for a creature en- 
gendered la-bas" And I think my friend conveyed, or desired 
to convey, that the wicked woman of my story was falsified 
above all, as an imported product, by something distinctly other 
than so engendered in the superficial "form" of her perversity, 
a high stiff-backed angular action which is, or was then, beyond 
any American "faking." The truth is, no doubt, that, though 
Mrs. Lionel, on my page, doesn't in the least achieve char- 
acter, she yet passes before us as a sufficiently vivid image, 
which was to be the effect designed for her an image the hard 
rustle of whose long steps and the sinister tinkle of whose 
multiplied trinkets belie the association invoked for them 
and positively operate for another. Not perhaps, moreover, as 
I am moved to subjoin, that the point greatly matters. What 
matters, for one's appreciation of a work of art, however 
modest, is that the prime intention shall have been justified 
for any judgment of which we must be clear as to what it 
was. It was n't after all of the prime, the very most prime, in- 
tention of the tale in question that the persons concerned in 
them should have had this, that or the other land of birth; but 
that the central situation should really be rendered that o 
a charming and decent young thing, from wheresoever proceed- 
ing, who has her decision and her action to- take, horribly and 
unexpectedly, in face of a squalid "scandal' the main agent 
of which is her nearest relative, and who, at the dreadful crisis, 
to guard against personal bespattering, is moved, with a miser- 
able want of effect, to a wild vague frantic gesture, an appeal 
for protection that virtually proves a precipitation of her dis- 

Nobody concerned need, as I say, have come from New 
York for that; though, as I have likewise intimated,, I must 


have seen the creation of my heroine, in 1888, and the re- 
presentation of the differences I wished to establish between 
her own known world and the world from which she finds 
herself recoiling, facilitated in a high degree by assured refer- 
ence to the simpler social order across the sea. I had my 
vision (as I recover the happy spell) of her having "come 
over" to find, to her dismay, what "London" had made 
of the person in the world hitherto most akin to her; In 
addition to which I was during those years infinitely inter- 
ested in almost any demonstration of the effect of London. 
This was a form of response to the incessant appeal of the 
great city, one's grateful, one's devoted recognition of which 
fairly broke out from day to day. It was material ever to one's 
hand; and the impression was always there that na one so 
much as the candid outsider, caught up and involved in the 
sweep of the machine, could measure the values revealed. 
Laura Wing must have figured for me thus as the necessary 
candid outsider from the moment some received impression 
of the elements about me was to be projected and embodied, 
In fact as I remount the stream it is the particular fresh- 
ness of that enjoyed relation I seem to taste again; the posi- 
tive fond belief that I had my right oppositions. They seemed 
to ensure somehow the perfect march of my tolerably simple 
action; the straightness, the artful economy of which save 
that of a particular point where my ingenuity shows to so 
small advantage that, to anticipate opprobrium, I can but 
hold it up to derision has n't ceased to be appreciable. The 
thing made its first appearance in "Scribner's Magazine" 
during the summer of 1888, and I remember being not long 
before at work upon it, remember in fact beginning it, in 
one of the wonderful faded back rooms of an old Venetian 
palace, a room with a pompous Tiepolo ceiling and walls 
of ancient pale-green damask, slightly shredded and patched, 
which, on the warm mornings, looked into the shade of a 
court where a high outer staircase, strikingly bold* yet strik- 



ingly relaxed, held together one scarce knew how; where 
Gothic windows broke out, on discoloured blanks of wall, 
at quite arbitrary levels, and where above all the strong 
Venetian voice, full of history and humanity and waking per- 
petual echoes, seemed to say more in ten warm words, of 
whatever tone, than any twenty pages of one's cold pale 

In spite of all of which, I may add, I do penance here 
only for the awkwardness of that departure from the adopted 
form of my recital which resides in the picture of the inter- 
view with young Wendover contrived by Lady Davenant 
In the interest of some better provision for their poor young 
friend. Here indeed is a lapse from artistic dignity, a confes- 
sion of want of resource, which I may not pretend to explain 
to-day, and on behalf of which I have nothing to urge save 
a consciousness of my dereliction presumably too vague at 
the time. I had seen my elements presented in a certain way, 
settled the little law under which my story was to be told, 
and with this consistency, as any reader of the tale may 
easily make o<ut for himself, interviews to which my central 
figure was not a party, scenes revolving on an improvised 
pivot of their own, had nothing to do with the affair. I might 
of course have adopted another plan the artist is free, surely, 
to adopt any he fancies, provided it be a plan and he adopt 
it intelligently; and to that scheme of composition the inde- 
pendent picture of a passage between Lady Davenant and 
young Wendover might perfectly have conformed. As the 
case stands it conforms to nothing; whereas the beauty of a 
thing of this order really done as a whole is ever, certainly, 
that its parts are in abject dependence, and that even any 
great charm they may individually and capriciously put forth 
is infirm so far as it doesn't measurably contribute to a har- 
mony. My momentary helplessness sprang, no doubt, from 
my failure to devise in time some way of giving the value 
of Lady Davenant's appeal to the young man, of making 



it play its part in my heroine's history and consciousness, with- 
out so awkwardly thrusting the lump sum on the reader. 

Circumventions of difficulty of this degree are precisely 
the finest privilege of the crafstman, who, to be worth his 
salt, and master of any contrived harmony, must take no 
tough technical problem for insoluble. These technical sub- 
terfuges and subtleties, these indirectly-expressed values, kept 
indirect in a higher interest, made subordinate to some gen- 
eral beauty, some artistic intention that can give an account 
of itself, what are they after all but one of the nobler parts 
of our amusement? Superficially, in "A London Life," it 
might well have seemed that the only way to picture the in- 
tervention on Laura Wing's behalf of the couple just named 
was to break the chain of the girl's own consciousness and 
report the matter quite straight and quite shamelessly; this 
course had indeed every merit but that of its playing the 
particular game to which I had addressed myself. My prime 
loyalty was to the interest of the game, and the honour to 
be won the more desirable by that fact. Any muddle-headed 
designer can beg the question of perspective, but science is 
required for making it rule the scene. If it be asked how then 
we were to have assisted at the copious passage I thus incrim- 
inate without our privilege of presence, I can only say that my 
discovery of the right way should and would have been 
the very flower of the performance. The real "fun" of the 
thing would have been exactly to sacrifice my comparative 
platitude of statement a deplorable depth at any time, I 
have attempted elsewhere to signify, for any pretending mas- 
ter of representation to sink to without sacrificing a grain 
of what was to be conveyed. The real fun, in other words, 
would have been in not, by an exceptional collapse of other 
ingenuity, making my attack on the spectator's consciousness 
a call as immediate as a postman's knock. This attack, at every 
other point, reaches that objective only through the medium 
of the interesting girl's own vision, own experience, with 



which all the facts are richly charged and coloured. That 
saturates our sense of them with the savour of Laura's sense 
thanks to which enhancement we get intensity. But from the 
chapter to which I have called attention, so that it may serve 
perhaps as a lesson, intensity ruefully drops. I can't say worse 
f or it and have been the more concerned to say what I do 
that without this flaw the execution might have appeared from 
beginning to end close and exemplary. 

It is with all that better confidence, I think, that the last 
of my three tales here carries itself. I recapture perfectly 
again, in respect to "The Chaperon," both the first jog of 
my imagination and the particular local influence that pre- 
sided at its birth the latter a ramshackle inn on the Irish 
coast, where the table at which I wrote was of an equilib- 
rium so vague that I wonder to-day how any object con- 
structed on it should stand so firm. The strange sad charm 
of the tearful Irish light hangs about the memory of the 
labour of which this small fiction first published in two 
numbers of "The Atlantic Monthly" of 1891 was one of 
the fruits; but the subject had glimmered upon me, two or 
three years before, in an air of comedy comparatively free 
from sharp under-tastes. Once more, as in the case of its 
companions here, the single spoken word, in London, had 
said all after the manner of that clear ring of the electric 
bell that the barest touch of the button may produce. The 
talk being of a certain lady who, in consequence of early 
passages, had lived for years apart from her husband and in 
no affluence of good company, it was mentioned of her that 
her situation had improved, and the desert around her been 
more or less brought under cultivation, by the fact of her 
having at last made acquaintance with her young unmarried 
daughter, a charming girl just introduced to the world and 
thereby qualified for "taking her out," floating her in spite 
of whatever past damage. Here in truth, it seemed to me, 
was a morsel of queer comedy to play with, and my talc 



embodies the neat experiment. Fortunately in this case the 
principle of composition adopted is loyally observed; the 
values gathered are, without exception, gathered by the light 
of the intense little personal consciousness, invoked from the 
first, that shines over my field and the predominance of which 
is usurped by none other. That is the main note to be made 
about "The Chaperon"; except this further, which I must 
reserve, however as I shall find excellent occasion for an 
ampler development. A short story, to my sense and as the 
term is used in magazines, has to choose between being either 
an anecdote or a picture and can but play its part strictly ac- 
cording to its kind. I rejoice in the anecdote, but I revel in 
the picture; though having doubtless at times to note that a 
given attempt may place itself near the dividing-line. This is 
in some degree the case with "The Chaperon," in which, none 
the less, on the whole, picture ingeniously prevails; picture 
aiming at those richly summarised and foreshortened effects 
the opposite pole again from expansion inorganic and thin 
that refer their terms of production, for which the magician 
has ever to don his best cap and gown, to the inner compart- 
ment of our box of tricks. From them comes the true grave 
close consistency in which parts hang together even as the 
interweavings of a tapestry. "The Chaperon" has perhaps, so 
far as it goes, something of that texture. Yet I shall be able,, 
I think, to cite examples with still more. 





I RECOGNISE again, for the first of these three Tales, another 
Instance of the growth of the "great oak" from the little 
acorn; since "What Maisie Knew" is at least a tree that 
spreads beyond any provision its small germ might on a first 
handling have appeared likely to make for it. The acciden- 
tal mention had been made to me of the manner in which 
the situation of some luckless child of a divorced couple was 
affected, under my informant's eyes, by the re-marriage of 
one of its parents I forget which; so that, thanks to the 
limited desire for its company expressed by the step-parent, 
the law of its little life, its being entertained in rotation by its 
father and its mother, wouldn't easily prevail. Whereas each 
of these persons had at first vindictively desired to keep it 
from the other, so at present the re-married relative sought 
now rather to be rid of it that is to leave it as much as pos- 
sible, and beyond the appointed times and seasons, on the 
hands of the adversary; which malpractice, resented by the 
latter as bad faith, would of course be repaid and avenged 
by an equal treachery. The wretched infant was thus to find 
itself practically disowned, rebounding from racquet to racquet 
like a tennis-ball or a shuttlecock. This figure could but touch 
the fancy to the quick and strike one as the beginning of a 
story a story commanding a great choice of developments. I 
recollect, however, promptly thinking that for a proper symme- 
try the second parent should marry too which in the case 



named to me indeed would probably soon occur, and was 
in any case what the ideal of the situation required. The 
second step-parent would have but to be correspondingly in- 
commoded by obligations to the offspring of a hated prede- 
cessor for the misfortune of the little victim to become alto- 
gether exemplary. The business would accordingly be sad 
enough, yet I am not sure its possibility of interest would so 
much have appealed to me had I not soon felt that the ugly 
facts, so stated or conceived, by no means constituted the 
whole appeal. 

The light of an imagination touched by them couldn't 
help therefore projecting a further ray, thanks to which it 
became rather quaintly clear that, not less than the chance 
of misery and of a degraded state, the chance of happiness 
and of an improved state might be here involved for the 
child, round about whom the complexity of life would thus 
turn to fineness, to richness and indeed would have but 
so to turn for the small creature to be steeped in security 
and ease. Sketchily clustered even, these elements gave out 
that vague pictorial glow which forms the first appeal of a 
living "subject" to the painter's consciousness; but the glim- 
mer became intense as I proceeded to a further analysis. The 
further analysis is for that matter almost always the torch 
of rapture and victory, as the artist's firm hand grasps and 
plays it I mean, naturally, of the smothered rapture and the 
obscure victory, enjoyed and celebrated not in the street but 
before some innermost shrine; the odds being a hundred to 
one, in almost any connexion, that it does n't arrive by any easy 
first process at the best residuum of truth. That was the charm, 
sensibly, of the picture thus at first confusedly showing; the 
elements so could n't but flush, to their very surface, with some 
deeper depth of irony than the mere obvious. It lurked in the 
crude postulate like a buried scent; the more the attention 
hovered the more aware it become of the fragrance. To which 
I may add that the more I scratched the surface and penetrated^ 



the more potent, to the intellectual nostril, became this virtue. 
At last, accordingly, the residuum, as I have called it, reached, 
I was in presence of the red dramatic spark that glowed at 
the core of my vision and that, as I gently blew upon it, burned 
higher and clearer. This precious particle was the full ironic 
truth the most interesting item to be read into the child's 
situation. For satisfaction of the mind, in other words, the 
small expanding consciousness would have to be saved, have 
to become presentable as a register of impressions; and saved 
by the experience of certain advantages, by some enjoyed 
profit and some achieved confidence, rather than coarsened, 
blurred, sterilised, by ignorance and pain. This better state, in 
the young life, would reside in the exercise of a function other 
than that of disconcerting the selfishness of its parents which 
was all that had on the face of the matter seemed reserved 
to it in the way of criticism applied to their rupture. The 
early relation would be exchanged for a later; instead of 
simply submitting to the inherited tie and the imposed com- 
plication, of suffering from them, our little wonder-working 
agent would create, without design, quite fresh elements of this 
order contribute, that is, to the formation of a fresh tie, from 
which it would then (and for all the world as if through a 
small demonic foresight) proceed to derive great profit. 

This is but to say that the light in which the vision so 
readily grew to a wholeness was that of a second marriage 
on both sides; the father having, in the freedom of divorce, 
but to take another wife, as well as the mother, under a like 
licence, another husband, for the case to begin, at least, to 
stand beautifully on its feet. There would be thus a perfect 
logic for what might come come even with the mere at- 
tribution of a certain sensibility (if but a mere relative fine- 
ness) to either of the new parties. Say the prime cause 
making for the ultimate attempt to shirk on one side or the 
other, and better still if on both, a due share of the decreed 
burden should have been, after all, in each progenitor, a 



constitutional inaptitude for any burden, and a base intoler- 
ance o it: we should thus get a motive not requiring, but 
happily dispensing with, too particular a perversity in the 
step-parents. The child seen as creating by the fact of its 
forlornness a relation between its step-parents, the more inti- 
mate the better, dramatically speaking; the child, by the mere 
appeal of neglectedness and the mere consciousness of relief, 
weaving about, with the best faith in the world, the close 
web of sophistication; the child becoming a centre and pre- 
text for a fresh system of misbehaviour, a system moreover 
of a nature to spread and ramify: there would be the "full" 
irony, there the promising theme into which the hint I had 
originally picked up would logically flower. No themes are 
so human as those that reflect for us, out of the confusion 
of life, the close connexion of bliss and bale, of the things 
that help with the things that hurt, so dangling before us 
for ever that bright hard medal, of so strange an alloy, one 
face of which is somebody's right and ease and the other 
somebody's pain and wrong. To live with all intensity and 
perplexity and felicity in its terribly mixed little world would 
thus be the part of my interesting small mortal; bringing 
people together who would be at least more correctly sepa- 
rate; keeping people separate who would be at least more cor- 
rectly together; flourishing, to a degree, at the cost of many 
conventions and proprieties, even decencies^ really keeping 
the torch of virtue alive in an air tending infinitely to smother 
it; really in short making confusion worse confounded by 
drawing some stray fragrance of an ideal across the scent 
of selfishness, by sowing on barren strands, through the mere 
fact of presence, the seed of the moral life. 

All this would be to say, I at once recognised, that my 
light vessel of consciousness, swaying in such a draught, 
couldn't be with verisimilitude a rude little boy; since, be- 
yond the fact that little boys are never so "present," the 
sensibility of the female young is indubitably, for early youth, 


the greater, and my plan would call, on the part o my pro- 
tagonist., for "no end" of sensibility. I might impute that 
amount of it without extravagance to a slip of a girl whose 
faculties should have been well shaken up; but I should have 
so to depend on its action to keep my story clear that I must be 
able to show it in all assurance as naturally intense. To this 
end I should have of course to suppose for my heroine disposi- 
tions originally promising, but above all I should have to invest 
her with perceptions easily and almost infinitely quickened. So 
handsomely fitted out, yet not in a manner too grossly to 
affront probability, she might well see me through the whole 
course of my design; which design, more and more attractive 
as I turned it over, and dignified by the most delightful diffi- 
culty, would be to make and to keep her so limited conscious- 
ness the very field of my picture while at the same time guard- 
ing with care the integrity of the objects represented. With the 
charm of this possibility, therefore, the project for "Maisie" 
rounded itself and loomed large any subject looming large, for 
that matter, I am bound to add, from the moment one is ridden 
by the law of entire expression. I have already elsewhere noted, 
I think, that the memory of my own work preserves for me 
no theme that, at some moment or other of its development, 
and always only waiting for the right connexion or chance, 
has n't signally refused to remain humble, even (or perhaps all 
the more resentfully) when fondly selected for its conscious 
and hopeless humility. Once "out," like a house-dog of a tem- 
per above confinement, it defies the mere whistle, it roams, it 
hunts, it seeks out and "sees" life; it can be brought back but 
by hand and then only to take its futile thrashing. It was n't 
at any rate for an idea seen in the light I here glance at not to 
have due warrant of its value how could the value of a scheme 
so finely workable not be great? The one presented register of 
the whole complexity would be the play of the child's confused 
and obscure notation of it, and yet the whole, as I say, should 
be unmistakeably, should be honourably there, seen through 



the faint intelligence, or at the least attested by the impon- 
derable presence, and still advertising its sense. 

I recall that my first view of this neat possibility was as 
the attaching problem of the picture restricted (while yet 
achieving, as I say, completeness and coherency) to what the 
child might be conceived to have understood to have been 
able to interpret and appreciate. Further reflexion and experi- 
ment showed me my subject strangled in that extreme of 
rigour. The infant mind would at the best leave great gaps and 
voids; so that with a systematic surface possibly beyond re- 
proach we should nevertheless fail of clearness of sense. I 
should have to stretch the matter to what my wondering wit- 
ness materially and inevitably saw; a great deal of which quan- 
tity she either would n't understand at all or would quite mis- 
understand and on those lines, only on those, my task would 
be prettily cut out. To that then I settled to the question of 
giving it dl, the whole situation surrounding her, but of 
giving it only through the occasions and connexions of her 
proximity and her attention; only as it might pass before her 
and appeal to her, as it might touch her and affect her, for bet- 
ter or worse, for perceptive gain or perceptive loss: so that we 
fellow witnesses, we not more invited but only more expert 
critics, should feel in strong possession of it. This would be, to 
begin with, a plan of absolutely definite and measurable appli- 
cation that in itself always a mark of beauty; and I have been 
interested to find on re-perusal of the work that some such 
controlling grace successfully rules it. Nothing could be more 
"done," I think, in the light of its happiest intention; and 
this in spite of an appearance that at moments obscures my 
consistency. Small children have many more perceptions than 
they have terms to translate them; their vision is at any mo- 
ment much richer, their apprehension even constantly stronger, 
than their prompt, their at all producible, vocabulary. Amusr 
ing therefore as it might at the first blush have seemed to 
restrict myself in this case to the terms as well as to the ex- 



perience, it became at once plain that such an attempt would 
fail. Maisie's terms accordingly play their part since her 
simpler conclusions quite depend on them; but our own com- 
mentary constantly attends and amplifies. This it is that on 
occasion, doubtless, seems to represent us as going so "be- 
hind" the facts o her spectacle as to exaggerate the activity 
of her relation to them. The difference here is but of a shade: 
it is her relation, her activity of spirit, that determines all our 
own concern we simply take advantage of these things bet- 
ter than she herself. Only, even though it is her interest that 
mainly makes matters interesting for us, we inevitably note this 
in figures that are not yet at her command and that are never- 
theless required whenever those aspects about her and those 
parts of her experience that she understands darken of! into 
others that she rather tormentedly misses. All of which gave 
me a high firm logic to observe; supplied the force for which 
the straightener of almost any tangle is grateful while he la- 
bours, the sense of pulling at threads intrinsically worth it 
strong enough and fine enough and entire enough. 

Of course, beyond this, was another and well-nigh equal 
charm equal in spite of its being almost independent of the 
acute constructional, the endless expressional question. This 
was the quite different question of the particular kind of 
truth of resistance I might be able to impute to my central 
figure some intensity, some continuity of resistance being 
naturally of the essence of the subject. Successfully to resist 
(to resist, that is, the strain of observation and the assault of 
experience) what would that be, on the part of so young a 
person, but to remain fresh, and still fresh, and to have even 
a freshness to communicate? the case being with Maisie to 
the end that she treats her friends to the rich little spectacle 
of objects embalmed in her wonder. She wonders, in other 
words, to the end, to the death the death of her childhood, 
properly speaking; after which (with the inevitable shift, 
sooner or later, of her point of view) her situation will change 



and become another affair, subject to other measurements and 
with a new centre altogether. The particular reaction that will 
have led her to that point, and that it has been of an exquisite 
interest to study in her, will have spent itself; there will be 
another scale, another perspective, another horizon. Our busi- 
ness meanwhile therefore is to extract from her current reaction 
whatever it may be worth; and for that matter we recognise 
in it the highest exhibitional virtue. Truly, I reflect, if the 
theme had had no other beauty it would still have had this rare 
and distinguished one of its so expressing the variety of the 
child's values. She is not only the extraordinary "ironic centre" 
I have already noted; she has the wonderful importance of 
shedding a light far beyond any reach of her comprehension; 
of lending to poorer persons and things, by the mere fact of 
their being involved with her and by the special scale she 
creates for them, a precious element of dignity. I lose myself, 
truly, in appreciation of my theme on noting what she does 
by her "freshness" for appearances in themselves vulgar and 
empty enough. They become, as she deals with them, the stuff 
of poetry and tragedy and art; she has simply to wonder, as I 
say, about them, and they begin to have meanings, aspects, sol- 
idities, connexions connexions with the "universal!" that 
they could scarce have hoped for. Ida Farange alone, so to 
speak, or Beale alone, that is either of them otherwise con- 
nected what intensity, what "objectivity" (the most developed 
degree of being anyhow thinkable for them) would they have? 
How would they repay at all the favour of our attention ? 

Maisie makes them portentous all by the play of her good 
faith, makes her mother above all, to my vision unless I 
have wholly failed to render it concrete, immense and awful; 
so that we get, for our profit, and get by an economy of process 
interesting in itself, the thoroughly pictured creature, the strik- 
ing figured symbol. At two points in particular, I seem to 
recognise, we enjoy at its maximum this effect of associational 
magic. The passage in which her father's terms of intercourse 



with the insinuating but so strange and unattractive lady whom 
he has had the detestable levity to whisk her off to see late at 
night, is a signal example of the all but incalculable way in 
which interest may be constituted. The facts involved are that 
Beale Farange is ignoble, that the friend to whom he introduces 
his daughter is deplorable, and that from the commerce of the 
two, as the two merely, we would fain avert our heads. Yet 
the thing has but to become a part of the child's bewilderment 
for these small sterilities to drop from it and for the scene to 
emerge and prevail vivid, special, wrought hard, to the hard- 
ness of the unforgettable; the scene that is exactly what Beale 
and Ida and Mrs. Cuddon, and even Sir Claude and Mrs. Beale, 
would never for a moment have succeeded in making their 
scant unredeemed importances namely appreciable. I find an- 
other instance in the episode of Maisie's unprepared encounter, 
while walking in the Park with Sir Claude, of her mother and 
that beguiled attendant of her mother, the encouraging, the 
appealing "Captain," to whom this lady contrives to com- 
mit her for twenty minutes while she herself deals with the 
second husband. The human substance here would have 
seemed in advance well-nigh too poor for conversion, the 
three "mature" figures of too short a radiation, too stupid 
(so stupid it was for Sir Claude to have married Ida!) too 
vain, too thin, for any clear application; but promptly, im- 
mediately, the child's own importance, spreading and con- 
tagiously acting, has determined the total value otherwise. 
Nothing of course, meanwhile, is an older story to the ob- 
server of manners and the painter of life than the grotesque 
finality with which such terms as "painful," "unpleasant" 
and "disgusting" are often applied to his results; to that 
degree, in truth, that the free use of them as weightily con- 
clusive again and again re-enforces his estimate of the critical 
sense of circles in which they artlessly flourish. Of course 
under that superstition I was punctually to have had read to 
me the lesson that the "mixing-up" of a child with anything 



unpleasant confessed itself an aggravation of the unpleasant- 
ness, and that nothing could well be more disgusting than 
to attribute to Maisie so intimate an "acquaintance'* with the 
gross immoralities surrounding her. 

The only thing to say of such lucidities is that, however 
one may have "discounted" in advance, and as once for all, 
their general radiance, one is disappointed if the hour for 
them, in the particular connexion, does n't strike they so keep 
before us elements with which even the most sedate philosopher 
must always reckon. The painter of life has indeed work cut 
out for him when a considerable part of life offers itself in the 
guise of that sapience. The effort really to see and really to rep- 
resent is no idle business in face of the constant force that makes 
for muddlement. The great thing is indeed that the muddled 
state too is one of the very sharpest of the realities, that it also 
has colour and form and character, has often in fact a broad 
and rich comicality, many of the signs and values of the appre- 
ciable. Thus it was to be, for example, I might gather, that the 
very principle of Maisie's appeal, her undestroyed freshness, 
in other words that vivacity of intelligence by which she in- 
deed does vibrate in the infected air, indeed does flourish in 
her immoral world, may pass for a barren and senseless thing, 
or at best a negligible one. For nobody to whom life at large 
is easily interesting do the finer, the shyer, the more anxious 
small vibrations, fine and shy and anxious with the passion that 
precedes knowledge, succeed in being negligible: which is 
doubtless one of many reasons why the passage between the 
child and the kindly, friendly, ugly gentleman who, seated with 
her in Kensington Gardens under a spreading tree, positively 
answers to her for her mother as no one has ever answered, 
and so stirs her, filially and morally, as she has never been 
stirred, throws into highest relief, to my sense at least, the side 
on which the subject is strong, and becomes the type-passage 
other advantages certainly aiding, as I may say for the expres- 
sion of its beauty. The active, contributive close-circling won- 



der, as I have called it, in which the child's identity is guarded 
and preserved, and which makes her case remarkable exactly 
by the weight of the tax on it, provides distinction for her, pro- 
vides vitality and variety, through the operation of the tax 
which would have done comparatively little for us hadn't 
it been monstrous. A pity for us surely to have been deprived 
of this just reflexion. "Maisie" is of 1907. 

I pass by, for the moment, the second of these compositions, 
finding in the third, which again deals with the experience of 
a very young person, a connexion more immediate; and this 
even at the risk of seeming to undermine my remark of a 
few pages back as to the comparative sensibility of the sexes. 
My urchin of "The Pupil" (1891) has sensibility In abundance, 
it would seem and yet preserves in spite of it, I judge, his 
strong little male quality. But there are fifty things to say 
here; which indeed rush upon me within my present close 
limits in such a cloud as to demand much clearance. This is 
perhaps indeed but the aftersense of the assault made on my 
mind, as I perfectly recall, by every aspect of the original vision, 
which struck me as abounding in aspects. It lives again for me, 
this vision, as it first alighted; though the inimitable prime 
flutter, the air as of an ineffable sign made by the immediate 
beat of the wings of the poised figure of fancy that has just set- 
tled, is one of those guarantees of value that can never be re- 
captured. The sign has been made to the seer only it is his 
queer affair; of which any report to others, not as yet involved, 
has but the same effect of flatness as attends, amid a group 
gathered under the canopy of night, any stray allusion to a 
shooting star. The miracle, since miracle it seems, is all for the 
candid exclaimer. The miracle for the author of "The Pupil," 
at any rate, was when, years ago, one summer day, in a very 
hot Italian railway-carriage, which stopped and dawdled every- 
where, favouring conversation, a friend with whom I shared it, 
a doctor of medicine who had come from a far country to 
settle in Florence, happened to speak to me of a wonderful 



American family, an odd adventurous, extravagant band, o 
high but rather unauthenticated pretensions, the most inter- 
esting member of which was a small boy, acute and pre- 
cocious, afflicted with a heart of weak action, but beautifully 
intelligent, who saw their prowling precarious life exactly as 
it was, and measured and judged it, and measured and judged 
them, all round, ever so quaintly; presenting himself in short 
as an extraordinary little person. Here was more than enough 
for a summer's day even in old Italy here was a thump- 
ing windfall No process and no steps intervened: I saw, on 
the spot, little Morgan Moreen, I saw all the rest of the 
Moreens; I felt, to the last delicacy, the nature of my young 
friend's relation with them (he had become at once my young 
friend) and, by the same stroke, to its uttermost fine throb, 
the subjection to him of the beguiled, bewildered, defrauded, 
unremunerated, yet after all richly repaid youth who would 
to a certainty, under stress of compassion, embark with the 
tribe on tutorship, and whose edifying connexion with it 
would be my leading document. 

This must serve as my account of the origin of "The Pupil": 
it will commend itself, I feel, to all imaginative and projective 
persons who have had and what imaginative and projective 
person has n't? any like experience of the suddenly-determined 
absolute of perception. The whole cluster of items forming 
the image is on these occasions born at once; the parts are not 
pieced together, they conspire and interdepend; but what it 
really comes to, no doubt, is that at a simple touch an old 
latent and dormant impression, a buried germ, implanted by 
experience and then forgotten, flashes to the surface as a fish, 
with a single "squirm," rises to the baited hook, and there 
meets instantly the vivifying ray. I remember at all events 
having no doubt of anything or anyone here; the vision kept 
to the end its ease and its charm; it worked itself out with 
confidence. These are minor matters when the question is of 
minor results; yet almost any assured and downright imagina- 



tive act is granted the sort of record in which I here in- 
dulo-e worth fondly commemorating. One cherishes, after 
the fact, any proved case of the independent life of the im- 
agination; above all if by that faculty one has been appointed 
mainly to live. We are then never detached from the question 
of what it may out of simple charity do for us. Besides which, 
in relation to the poor Moreens, innumerable notes, as I 
have intimated, all equally urging their relevance, press here 
to the front. The general adventure of the little composi- 
tion itself for singular things were to happen to it, though 
among such importunities not the most worth noting now 
would be, occasion favouring, a thing to live over; moving 
as one did, roundabout it, in I scarce know what thick and 
coloured air of slightly tarnished anecdote, of dim association, 
of casual confused romance; a compound defying analysis, 
but truly, for the social chronicler, any student in especial 
o the copious "cosmopolite" legend, a boundless and tangled, 
but highly explorable, garden. Why, somehowthese were 
the intensifying questions did one see the Moreens, whom I 
place at Nice, at Venice, in Paris, as of the special essence of 
the little old miscellaneous cosmopolite Florence, the Florence 
of other, of irrecoverable years, the restless yet withal so con- 
venient scene of a society that has passed away for ever with 
all its faded ghosts and fragile relics; immaterial presences that 
have quite ceased to revisit (trust an old romancer's, an old 
pious observer's fine sense to have made sure of it!) walks 
and prospects once sacred and shaded, but now laid bare, gap- 
ing wide, despoiled of their past and unfriendly to any appreci- 
ation of it? through which the unconscious Barbarians troop 
with the regularity and passivity of "supplies," or other promis- 
cuous goods, prepaid and forwarded. 

They had nothing to do, the dear Moreens, with this dread- 
ful period, any more than I, as occupied and charmed with 
them, was humiliatingly subject to it; we were, all together, 
of a better romantic age and faith; we referred ourselves, with 



our highest complacency, to the classic years of the great Amer- 
icano-European legend; the years of limited communication, 
of monstrous and unattenuated contrast, of prodigious and un- 
recorded adventure. The comparatively brief but infinitely rich 
"cycle" of romance embedded in the earlier, the very early 
American reactions and returns (mediaeval in the sense of 
being, at most, of the mid-century), what does it resemble to- 
day but a gold-mine overgrown and smothered, dislocated, 
and no longer workable? all for want of the right indications 
for sounding, the right implements for digging, doubtless 
even of the right workmen, those with the right tradition 
and "feeling" for the job. The most extraordinary things 
appear to have happened, during that golden age, in the 
"old" countries in Asia and Africa as well as in Europe 
to the candid, children of the West, things admirably incongru- 
ous and incredible; but no story of all the list was to find its 
just interpreter, and nothing is now more probable than that 
every key to interpretation has been lost. The modern re- 
porter's big brushes, attached to broom-handles that match the 
height of his sky-scrapers, would sadly besmear the fine parch- 
ment of our missing record. We were to lose, clearly, at anj 
rate, a vast body of precious anecdotes, a long gallery of won- 
derful portraits, an array of the oddest possible figures in the 
oddest possible attitudes. The Moreens were of the family then 
of the great unstudied precursors poor and shabby mem- 
bers, no doubt; dim and superseded types. I must add indeed 
that, such as they were, or as they may at present incoherently 
appear, I don't pretend really to have "done" them; all I have 
given in "The Pupil" is little Morgan's troubled vision of 
them as reflected in the vision, also troubled enough, of his 
devoted friend. The manner of the thing may thus illustrate 
the author's incorrigible taste for gradations and superpositions 
of effect; his love, when it is a question of a picture, of any- 
thing that makes for proportion and perspective, that con- 
tributes to a view of all the dimensions. Addicted to seeing 


"through" one thing through another, accordingly, and still 
other things through that\it takes, too greedily perhaps, on 
any errand, as many things as possible by the way. It is after 
this fashion that he incurs the stigma of labouring uncannily 
for a certain fulness of truth truth diffused, distributed and, as 
it were, atmospheric. 

The second in order of these fictions speaks for itself, I 
think, so frankly as scarce to suffer further expatiation. Its 
origin is written upon it large, and the idea it puts into play 
so abides in one of the commonest and most taken-for-granted 
of London impressions that some such experimentally-figured 
situation as that of "In the Cage" must again and again have 
flowered (granted the grain of observation) in generous minds. 
It had become for me, at any rate, an old story by the time 
(1898) I cast it into this particular form. The postal-telegraph 
office in general, and above all the small local office of one's 
immediate neighbourhood, scene of the transaction of so much 
of one's daily business, haunt of one's needs and one's duties, 
of one's labours and one's patiences, almost of one's rewards 
and one's disappointments, one's joys and one's sorrows, had 
ever had, to my sense, so much of London to give out, so much 
of its huge perpetual story to tell, that any momentary wait 
there seemed to take place in a strong social draught, the 
stiffest possible breeze of the human comedy. One had of 
course in these connexions one's especial resort, the office near- 
est one's own door, where one had come to enjoy in a man- 
ner the fruits of frequentation and the amenities of intercourse. 
So had grown up, for speculation prone as one's mind had 
ever been to that form of waste the question of what it might 
"mean," wherever the admirable service was installed, for 
confined and cramped and yet considerably tutored young 
officials of either sex to be made so free, intellectually, of a 
range of experience otherwise quite closed to them. This 
wonderment, once the spark was kindled, became an amuse- 
ment, or an obsession, like another; though falling indeed, 



at the best, no doubt, but into that deepest abyss of all the 
wonderments that break out for the student of great cities. 
From the moment that he is a student, this most beset of 
critics, his danger is inevitably of imputing to too many others, 
right and left, the critical impulse and the acuter vision 
so very long may it take him to learn that the mass of man- 
kind are banded, probably by the sanest of instincts, to 
defend themselves to the death against any such vitiation 
of their simplicity. To criticise is to appreciate, to appropriate, 
to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation 
with the criticised thing and make it one's own. The large 
intellectual appetite projects itself thus on many things, while 
the small not better advised, but unconscious of need for 
advice projects itself on few. 

Admirable thus its economic instinct; it is curious of noth- 
ing that it has n't vital use for. You may starve in London, 
it is clear, without discovering a use for any theory of the 
more equal division of victuals which is moreover exactly 
what it would appear that thousands of the non-speculative 
annually do. Their example is much to the point, in the 
light of all the barren trouble they are saved; but somehow, 
after all, it gives no pause to the "artist," to the morbid im- 
agination. That rash, that idle faculty continues to abound 
in questions, and to supply answers to as many of them as 
possible; all of which makes a great occupation for idleness. 
To the fantastic scale on which this last-named state may, 
in favouring conditions, organise itself, to the activities it 
may practise when the favouring conditions happen to crop 
up in Mayfair or in Kensington, our portrayal of the caged 
telegraphist may well appear a proper little monument. The 
composition before us tells in fact clearly enough, it seems 
to me, the story of its growth; and relevance will probably 
be found in any moral it may pluckby which I mean any 
moral the impulse to have framed it may pluck from the 
vice of reading rank subtleties into simple souls and reckless 



expenditure into thrifty ones. The matter comes back again, 
I fear, but to the author's irrepressible and insatiable, his 
extravagant and immoral, interest in personal character and 
in the "nature" of a mind, of almost any mind the heaving 
little sea of his subject may cast up as to which these remarks 
have already, in other connexions, recorded his apology: all 
without prejudice to such shrines and stations of penance as still 
shall enliven our way. The range of wonderment attributed in 
our tale to the young woman employed at Cocker's differs little 
in essence from the speculative thread on which the pearls of 
Maisie's experience, in this same volume pearls of so strange 
an iridescence are mostly strung. She wonders, putting it 
simply, very much as Morgan Moreen wonders; and they 
all wonder, for that matter, very much after the fashion of 
our portentous little Hyacinth of "The Princess Casamas- 
sima," tainted to the core, as we have seen him, with the 
trick of mental reaction on the things about him and fairly 
staggering under the appropriations, as I have called them, 
that he owes to the critical spirit. He collapses, poor Hya- 
cinth, like a thief at night, overcharged with treasures of 
reflexion and spoils of passion of which he can give, in his 
poverty and obscurity, no honest account. 

It is much in this manner, we see on analysis, that Mor- 
gan Moreen breaks down his burden indeed not so heavy, 
but his strength so much less formed. The two little spirits 
of maidens, in the group, bear up, oddly enough, beyond those 
of their brothers; but the just remark for each of these small 
exhibited lives is of course that, in the longer or the shorter 
piece, they are actively, are luxuriously, lived. The luxury is 
that of the number of their moral vibrations, well-nigh un- 
restricted not that of an account at the grocer's: whatever it 
be, at any rate, it makes them, as examples and "cases," rare. 
My brooding telegraphist may be in fact, on her ground of 
ingenuity, scarcely more thinkable than desirable; yet if I 
have made her but a libel, up and down the city, on an 



estimable class, I feel it still something to have admonished 
that class, even though obscurely enough, of neglected inter- 
ests and undivined occasions. My central spirit, in the anec- 
dote, is, for verisimilitude, I grant, too ardent a focus of 
divination; but without this excess the phenomena detailed 
would have lacked their principle of cohesion. The action of 
the drama is simply the girl's "subjective" adventure that of 
her quite definitely winged intelligence; just as the catastrophe, 
just as the solution, depends on her winged wit. Why, how- 
ever, should I explain further for a case that, modestly as it 
would seem to present itself, has yet already whirled us so far? 
A course of incident complicated by the intervention of winged 
wit which is here, as I say, confessed to would be generally 
expected, I judge, to commit me to the explanation of every- 
thing. But from that undertaking I shrink, and take refuge 
instead, for an instant, in a much looser privilege. 

If I speak, as just above, of the action embodied, each 
time, in these so "quiet" recitals, it is under renewed recog- 
nition of the inveterate instinct with which they keep con- 
forming to the "scenic'* law. They demean themselves for all 
the world they quite insist on it, that is, whenever they have a 
chance as little constituted dramas, little exhibitions founded 
on the logic of the "scene," the unit of the scene, the general 
scenic consistency, and knowing little more than that. To 
read them over has been to find them on this ground never at 
fault. The process repeats and renews itself, moving in the 
light it has once for all adopted. These finer idiosyncracies of a 
literary form seem to be regarded as outside the scope of 
criticism small reference to them do I remember ever to have 
met; such surprises of re-perusal, such recoveries of old funda- 
mental intention, such moments of almost ruefully independ- 
ent discrimination, would doubtless in that case not have way- 
laid my steps. Going over the pages here placed together has 
been for me, at all events, quite to watch the scenic system at 
play. The treatment by "scene," regularly, quite rhythmically 


jecurs; the intervals between, the massing of the elements to a 
different effect and by a quite other law, remain, in this fash- 
ion, all preparative, just as the scenic occasions in themselves 
become, at a given moment, illustrative, each of the agents, 
true to its function, taking up the theme from the other very 
much as the fiddles, in an orchestra, may take it up from the 
cornets and flutes, or the wind-instruments take it up from the 
violins. The point, however, is that the scenic passages are 
wholly and logically scenic, having for their rule of beauty 
the principle of the "conduct," the organic development, of a 
scene the entire succession of values that flower and bear fruit 
on ground solidly laid for them. The great advantage for the 
total effect is that we feel, with the definite alternation, how the 
theme is being treated. That is we feel it when, in such tangled 
connexions, we happen to care. I should n't really go on as if 
this were the case with many readers. 





I NOT only recover with ease, but I delight to recall, the first 
impulse given to the idea of "The Aspern Papers." It is 
at the same time true that my present mention of it may per- 
haps too effectually dispose of any complacent claim to my 
having "found" the situation. Not that I quite know indeed 
what situations the seeking fabulist does "find"; he seeks them 
enough assuredly, but his discoveries are, like those of the navi- 
gator, the chemist, the biologist, scarce more than alert recog- 
nitions. He comes upon the interesting thing as Columbus 
came upon the isle of San Salvador, because he had moved in 
the right direction for it also because he knew, with the en- 
counter, what "making land" then and there represented. 
Nature had so placed it, to profit if as profit we may measure 
the matter! by his fine unrest, just as history, "literary history" 
we in this connexion call it, had in an out-of-the-way corner of 
the great garden of life thrown off a curious flower that I was 
to feel worth gathering as soon as I saw it. I got wind of my 
positive fact, I followed the scent. It was in Florence years 
ago; which is precisely, of the whole matter, what I like 
most to remember. The air of the old-time Italy invests 
it, a mixture that on the faintest invitation I rejoice again to 
inhale and this in spite of the mere cold renewal, ever, of 
the infirm side of that felicity, the sense, in the whole element, 
of things too numerous, too deep, too obscure, too strange, or 



even simply too beautiful, for any ease of intellectual relation. 
One must pay one's self largely with words, I think, one must 
induce almost any "Italian subject" to mafa believe it gives up 
its secret, in order to keep at all on working or call them per- 
haps rather playing terms with the general impression. We 
entertain it thus, the impression, by the aid of a merciful con- 
vention which resembles the fashion of our intercourse with 
Iberians or Orientals whose form of courtesy places everything 
they have at our disposal. We thank them and call upon them, 
but without acting on their professions. The offer has been 
too large and our assurance is too small; we peep at most 
into two or three of the chambers of their hospitality, with 
the rest of the case stretching beyond our ken and escaping 
our penetration. The pious fiction suffices; we have entered, 
we have seen, we are charmed. So, right and left, in Italy 
before the great historic complexity at least penetration fails; 
we scratch at the extensive surface, we meet the perfunctory 
smile, we hang about in the golden air. But we exaggerate our 
gathered values only if we are eminently witless. It is fortu- 
nately the exhibition in all the world before which, as admirers, 
we can most remain superficial without feeling silly. 

All of which I note, however, perhaps with too scant rele- 
vance to the inexhaustible charm of Roman and Florentine 
memories. Off the ground, at a distance, our fond indifference 
to being "silly" grows fonder still; the working convention, 
as I have called it the convention of the real revelations and 
surrenders on one side and the real immersions and apprecia- 
tions on the other has not only nothing to keep it down, but 
every glimpse of contrast, every pang of exile and every nos- 
talgic twinge to keep it up. These latter haunting presences 
in fact, let me note, almost reduce at first to a mere blurred, 
sad, scarcely consolable vision this present revisiting, re-appro- 
priating impulse. There are parts of one's past, evidently, that 
bask consentingly and serenely enough in the light of other 
days which is but the intensity of thought; and there are 



other parts that take it as with agitation and pain, a troubled 
consciousness that heaves as with the disorder of drinking it 
deeply in. So it is at any rate, fairly in too thick and rich a 
retrospect, that I see my old Venice of "The Aspem Papers," 
that I see the still earlier one of Jeffrey Aspern himself, and 
that I see even the comparatively recent Florence that was to 
drop into my ear the solicitation of these things. I would fain 
"lay it on" thick for the very love of them that at least I 
may profess; and, with the ground of this desire frankly ad- 
mitted, something that somehow makes, in the whole story, 
for a romantic harmony. I have had occasion in the course of 
these remarks to define my sense of the romantic, and am glad 
to encounter again here an instance of that virtue as I under- 
stand it. I shall presently say why this small case so ranges it- 
self, but must first refer more exactly to the thrill of apprecia- 
tion it was immediately to excite in me. I saw it somehow at 
the very first blush as romantic for the use, of course I mean, 
I should certainly have had to make of it that Jane Clair- 
mont, the half-sister of Mary Godwin, Shelley's second wife 
and for a while the intimate friend of Byron and the mother 
of his daughter Allegra, should have been living on in Flor- 
ence, where she had long lived, up to our own day, and that in 
fact, had I happened to hear of her but a little sooner, I might 
have seen her in the flesh. The question of whether I should 
have wished to do so was another matter the question of 
whether I shouldn't have preferred to keep her preciously 
unseen, to run no risk, in other words, by too rude a choice, 
of depreciating that romance-value which, as I say, it was 
instantly inevitable to attach (through association above all, 
with another signal circumstance) to her long survival 

I had luckily not had to deal with the difficult option; diffi- 
cult in such a case by reason of that odd law which somehow 
always makes the minimum of valid suggestion serve the man 
of imagination better than the maximum. The historian, essen- 
tially, wants more documents than he can really use; the drama- 



tist only wants more liberties than he can really take. Nothing, 
fortunately, however, had, as the case stood, depended on my 
delicacy; I might have "looked up" Miss Clairmont in previous 
years had I been earlier informed the silence about her seemed 
full of the "irony of fate"; but I felt myself more concerned 
with the mere strong fact of her having testified for the reality 
and the closeness of our relation to the past than with any 
question of the particular sort of person I might have flat- 
tered myself I "found." I had certainly at the very least been 
saved the undue simplicity of pretending to read meanings 
into things absolutely sealed and beyond test or proof to tap 
a fount of waters that could n't possibly not have run dry. The 
thrill of learning that she had "overlapped," and by so much, 
and the wonder of my having doubtless at several earlier 
seasons passed again and again, all unknowing, the door of her 
house, where she sat above, within call and in her habit as she 
lived, these things gave me all I wanted; I seem to remember 
in fact that my more or less immediately recognising that I 
positively oughtn't "for anything to come of it" to have 
wanted more. I saw, quickly, how something might come of 
it thus; whereas a fine instinct told me that the effect of a 
nearer view of the case (the case of the overlapping) would 
probably have had to be quite differently calculable. It was 
really with another item of knowledge, however, that I meas- 
ured the mistake I should have made in waking up sooner to 
the question of opportunity. That item consisted of the action 
taken on the premises by a person who had waked up in time, 
and the legend of whose consequent adventure, as a few spoken 
words put it before me, at once kindled a flame. This gentle- 
man, an American of long ago, an ardent Shelleyite, a singu- 
larly marked figure and himself in the highest degree a subject 
for a free sketch I had known him a little, but there is not a 
reflected glint of him in "The Aspern Papers" was named to 
me as having made interest with Miss Clairmont to be accepted 
as a lodger on the calculation that she would have Shelley docu* 



ments for which, in the possibly not remote event o her death, 
he would thus enjoy priority of chance to treat with her repre- 
sentatives. He had at any rate, according to the legend, be- 
come, on earnest Shelley grounds, her yearning, though also 
her highly diplomatic, pensionnaire but without gathering, as 
was to befall, the fruit of his design. 

Legend here dropped to another key; it remained in a man- 
ner interesting, but became to my ear a trifle coarse, or at least 
rather vague and obscure. It mentioned a younger female rela- 
tive of the ancient woman as a person who, for a queer climax, 
had had to be dealt with; it flickered so for a moment and then,, 
as a light, to my great relief, quite went out. It had flickered in- 
deed but at the best yet had flickered enough to give me my 
"facts," bare facts of intimation; which, scant handful though 
they were, were more distinct and more numerous than I 
mostly li\e facts: like them, that is, as we say of an etcher's 
progressive subject, in an early "state." Nine tenths of the art- 
ist's interest in them is that of what he shall add to them and 
how he shall turn them. Mine, however, in the connexion I 
speak of, had fortunately got away from me, and quite of their 
own movement, in time not to crush me. So it was, at all 
events, that my imagination preserved power to react under the 
mere essential charm that, I mean, of a final scene of the rich 
dim Shelley drama played out in the very theatre of our own 
"modernity." This was the beauty that appealed to me; there 
had been, so to speak, a forward continuity, from the actual 
man, the divine poet, on; and the curious, the ingenious, the 
admirable thing would be to throw it backward again, to com- 
press squeezing it hard! the connexion that had drawn itself 
out, and convert so the stretched relation into a value of near- 
ness on our own part. In short I saw my chance as admirable, 
and one reason, when the direction is right, may serve as well 
as fifty; but if I "took over," as I say, everything that was o 
the essence, I stayed my hand for the rest. The Italian side o 
the legend closely clung; if only because the so possible terms 


of my Juliana's life in the Italy of other days could make con- 
ceivable for her the fortunate privacy, the long uninvaded and 
uninterviewed state on which I represent her situation as 
founded. Yes, a surviving unexploited unparagraphed Juliana 
was up to a quarter of a century since still supposeable as 
much so as any such buried treasure, any such grave unpro- 
faned, would defy probability now. And then the case had 
the air of the past just in the degree in which that air, I con- 
fess, most appeals to me when the region over which it 
hangs is far enough away without being too far. 

I delight in a palpable imaginable visitable past in the 
nearer distances and the clearer mysteries, the marks and signs 
of a world we may reach over to as by making a long arm we 
grasp an object at the other end of our own table. The table 
is the one, the common expanse, and where we lean, so stretch- 
ing, we find it firm and continuous. That, to my imagination, 
is the past fragrant of all, or of almost all, the poetry of the 
thing outlived and lost and gone, and yet in which the precious 
clement of closeness, telling so of connexions but tasting so of 
differences, remains appreciable. With more moves back the 
element of the appreciable shrinks just as the charm of look- 
ing over a garden-wall into another garden breaks down when 
successions of walls appear. The other gardens, those still be- 
yond, may be there, but even by use of our longest ladder we 
are baffled and bewilderedthe view is mainly a view of bar- 
riers. The one partition makes the place we have wondered 
about other, both richly and recogniseably so; but who shall 
pretend to impute an effect of composition to the twenty? 
We are divided of course between liking to feel the past strange 
and liking to feel it familiar; the difficulty is, for intensity, to 
catch it at the moment when the scales of the balance hang with 
the right evenness. I say for intensity, for we may profit by 
them in other aspects enough if we are content to measure or 
&> feel loosely. It would take me too far, however, to tell why 
the particular afternoon light that I thus call intense rests 


clearer to my sense on the Byronic age, as I conveniently name 
it, than on periods more protected by the "dignity" o history. 
With the times beyond, intrinsically more "strange," the tender 
grace, for the backward vision, has faded, the afternoon dark- 
ened; for any time nearer to us the special effect has n't begun. 
So there, to put the matter crudely, is the appeal I fondly 
recognise, an appeal residing doubtless more in the "special 
effect," in some deep associational force, than in a virtue more 
intrinsic. I am afraid I must add, since I allow myself so much 
to fantasticate, that the impulse had more than once taken me 
to project the Byronic age and the afternoon light across the 
great sea, to see in short whether association would carry so far 
and what the young century might pass for on that side of the 
modern world where it was not only itself so irremediably 
youngest, but was bound up with youth in everything else. 
There was a refinement of curiosity in this imputation of a 
golden strangeness to American social facts though I cannot 
pretend, I fear, that there was any greater wisdom. 

Since what it had come to then was, harmlessly enough, cul- 
tivating a sense of the past under that close protection, it was 
natural, it was fond and filial, to wonder if a few of the dis- 
tilled drops mightn't be gathered from some vision of, say, 
"old" New York. Would that human congeries, to aid oblig- 
ingly in the production of a fable, be conceivable as "taking" 
the afternoon light with the right happy slant? or could a 
recogniseable reflexion of the Byronic age, in other words, be 
picked up on the banks of the Hudson? (Only just there, be- 
yond the great sea, if anywhere: in no other connexion would 
the question so much as raise its head. I admit that Jeffrey As- 
pern is n't even feebly localised, but I thought New York as I 
projected him.) It was "amusing," in any case, always, to try 
experiments; and the experiment for the right transposition of 
my Juliana would be to fit her out with an immortalising poet 
as transposed as herself. Delicacy had demanded, I felt, that 
my appropriation of the Florentine legend should purge it, 



first of all, of references too obvious; so that, to begin with, I 
shifted the scene of the adventure. Juliana, as I saw her, was 
thinkable only in Byronic and more or less immediately post- 
By ronic Italy; but there were conditions in which she was 
ideally arrangeable, as happened, especially in respect to the 
later time and the long undetected survival; there being ab- 
solutely no refinement of the mouldy rococo, in human or 
whatever other form, that you may not disembark at the dis- 
located water-steps of almost any decayed monument of Vene- 
tian greatness in auspicious quest of. It was a question, in fine, 
of covering one's tracks though with no great elaboration I 
am bound to admit; and I felt I could n't cover mine more 
than in postulating a comparative American Byron to match an 
American Miss Clairmont she as absolute as she would. I 
scarce know whether best to say for this device to-day that it 
cost me little or that it cost me much; it was "cheap" or expen- 
sive according to the degree of verisimilitude artfully obtained. 
If that degree appears nil the "art," such as it was, is wasted, and 
my remembrance of the contention, on the part of a highly 
critical friend who at that time and later on often had my ear, 
that it had been simply foredoomed to be wasted, puts before 
me the passage in the private history of "The Aspern Papers," 
that I now find, I confess, most interesting. I comfort myself 
for the needful brevity of a present glance at it by the sense 
that the general question involved, under criticism, can't but 
come up for us again at higher pressure. 

My friend's argument bore then at the time and after- 
ward on my vicious practice, as he maintained, of post- 
ulating for the purpose of my fable celebrities who not only 
had n't existed in the conditions I imputed to them, but who 
for the most part (and in no case more markedly than in 
that of Jeffrey Aspern) could n't possibly have done so. The 
stricture was to apply itself to a whole group of short fictions 
In which I had, with whatver ingenuity, assigned to several 
so-called eminent figures positions absolutely unthinkable IB 



our actual encompassing air, an air definitely unfavourable 
to certain forms of eminence. It was vicious, my critic con- 
tended, to flourish forth on one's page "great people," public 
persons, who shouldn't more or less square with our quite 
definite and calculable array of such notabilities; and by 
this rule I was heavily incriminated. The rule demanded 
that the "public person" portrayed should be at least of the 
tradition, of the general complexion, of the face-value, exactly, 
of some past or present producible counterfoil. Mere private 
figures, under one's hand, might correspond with nobody, it 
being of their essence to be but narrowly known; the repre- 
sented state of being conspicuous, on the other hand, involved 
before anything else a recognition and none of my eminent 
folk were recogniseable. It was all very well for instance to 
have put one's self at such pains for Miriam Rooth in "The 
Tragic Muse"; but there was misapplied zeal, there a case of 
pitiful waste, crying aloud to be denounced. Miriam is 
offered not as a young person passing unnoticed by her age 
like the Biddy Dormers and Julia Dallows, say, of the same 
book, but as a high rarity, a time-figure of the scope inevitably 
attended by other commemorations. Where on earth would 
be then Miriam's inscribed "counterfoil," and in what condi- 
tions of the contemporary English theatre, in what conditions 
of criticism, of appreciation, under what conceivable Anglo- 
Saxon star, might we take an artistic value of this order either 
for produced or for recognised ? We are, as a "public," chalk- 
marked by nothing, more unmistakeably, than by the truth 
that we know nothing of such values any more than, as 
my friend was to impress on me, we are susceptible of con- 
sciousness of such others (these in the sphere of literary em- 
inence) as my Neil Paraday in "The Death of the Lion," 
as my Hugh Vereker in "The Figure in the Carpet," as 
my Ralph Limbert, above all, in "The Next Time," as sundry 
unprecedented and unmatched heroes and martyrs of the 
artistic ideal, in short, elsewhere exemplified in my pages. 



We shall come to these objects of animadversion in another 
hour, when I shall have no difficulty in producing the de- 
fence I found for them since, obviously, I hadn't cast 
them into the world all naked and ashamed; and I deal for 
the moment but with the stigma in general as Jeffrey Asperrt 
carries it. 

The charge being that I foist upon our early American 
annals a distinguished presence for which they yield me 
absolutely no warrant "Where, within them, gracious heaven, 
were we to look for so much as an approach to the social ele- 
ments of habitat and climate of birds of that note and 
plumage?" I find his link with reality then just in the 
tone of the picture wrought round him. What was that tone 
but exactly, but exquisitely, calculated, the harmless hocus- 
pocus under cover of which we might suppose him to have 
existed? This tone is the tone, artistically speaking of "amuse- 
ment," the current floating that precious influence home quite 
as one of those high tides watched by the smugglers of old 
might, in case of their boat's being boarded, be trusted to 
wash far up the strand the cask of foreign liquor expertly 
committed to it. If through our lean prime Western period 
no dim and charming ghost of an adventurous lyric genius 
might by a stretch of fancy flit, if the time was really too 
hard to "take," in the light form proposed, the elegant 
reflexion, then so much the worse for the time it was all one 
could say! The retort to that of course was that such a plea 
represented no "link" with reality which was what was under 
discussion but only a link, and flimsy enough too, with the 
deepest depths of the artificial: the restrictive truth exactly 
contended for, which may embody my critic's last word rather 
of course than my own. My own, so far as I shall pretend in 
that especial connexion to report it, was that one's warrant, in 
such a case, hangs essentially on the question of whether or no 
the false element imputed would have borne that test of fur- 
ther development which so exposes the wrong and so conse* 



crates the right. My last word was, heaven forgive me, that, 
occasion favouring, I could have perfectly "worked out" Jeffrey 
Aspern. The boast remains indeed to be verified when we shall 
arrive at the other challenged cases. 

That particular challenge at least "The Turn of the Screw" 
does n't incur; and this perfectly independent and irresponsible 
little fiction rejoices, beyond any rival on a like ground, in a 
conscious provision of prompt retort to the sharpest question 
that may be addressed to it. For it has the small strength 
if I shouldn't say rather the unattackable ease of a perfect 
homogeneity, of being, to the very last grain of its virtue, 
all of a kind; the very kind, as happens, least apt to be baited 
by earnest criticism, the only sort of criticism of which account 
need be taken. To have handled again this so full-blown flower 
of high fancy is to be led back by it to easy and happy recogni- 
tions. Let the first of these be that of the starting-point itself 
the sense, all charming again, of the circle, one winter 
afternoon, round the hall-fire of a grave old country-house 
where (for all the world as if to resolve itself promptly and 
obligingly into convertible, into "literary" stuff) the talk 
turned, on I forget what homely pretext, to apparitions and 
night-fears, to the marked and sad drop in the general sup- 
ply, and still more in the general quality, of such commodities. 
The good, the really effective and heart-shaking ghost-stories 
(roughly so to term them) appeared all to have been told, and 
neither new crop nor new type in any quarter awaited us. The 
new type indeed, the mere modern "psychical" case, washed 
clean of all queerness as by exposure to a flowing laboratory 
tap, and equipped with credentials vouching for this the new 
type clearly promised little, for the more it was respectably 
certified the less it seemed of a nature to rouse the dear old 
sacred terror. Thus it was, I remember, that amid our lament 
for a beautiful lost form, our distinguished host expressed the 
wish that he might but have recovered for us one of the 
scantest of fragments of this form at its best. He had never 



forgotten the impression made on him as a young man by the 
withheld glimpse, as it were, of a dreadful matter that had 
been reported years before, and with as few particulars, to 
a lady with whom he had youthfully talked. The story would 
have been thrilling could she but have found herself in bet- 
ter possession of it, dealing as it did with a couple of small 
children in an out-of-the way place, to whom the spirits of cer- 
tain "bad" servants, dead in the employ of the house, were 
believed to have appeared with the design of "getting hold" 
of them. This was all, but there had been more, which my 
friend's old converser had lost the thread of: she could 
only assure him of the wonder of the allegations as she had 
anciently heard them made. He himself could give us but this 
shadow of a shadow my own appreciation of which, I need 
scarcely say, was exactly wrapped up in that thinness. On the 
surface there wasn't much, but another grain, none the less, 
would have spoiled the precious pinch addressed to its end 
as neatly as some modicum extracted from an old silver snuff- 
box and held between finger and thumb. I was to remember 
the haunted children and the prowling servile spirits as a 
"value," of the disquieting sort, in all conscience sufficient; so 
that when, after an interval, I was asked for something season- 
able by the promoters of a periodical dealing in the time- 
honoured Christmas-tide toy, I bethought myself at once of 
the vividest little note for sinister romance that I had ever jotted 

Such was the private source of "The Turn of the Screw"; 
and I wondered, I confess, why so fine a germ, gleaming 
there in the wayside dust of life, had never been deftly picked 
up. The thing had for me the immense merit of allowing 
the imagination absolute freedom of hand, of inviting it to 
act on a perfectly clear field, with no "outside" control in- 
volved, no pattern of the usual or the true or the terrible 
"pleasant" (save always of course the high pleasantry of one's 
very form) to consort with. This makes in fact the charm 



of my second reference, that I find here a perfect example 
of ao exercise of the imagination unassisted, unassociated 
playing the game, making the score, in the phrase of our 
sporting day, off its own bat. To what degree the game 
was worth playing, I needn't attempt to say: the exercise 
I have noted strikes me now, I confess, as the interesting 
thing, the imaginative faculty acting with the whole of the 
case on its hands. The exhibition involved is in other words 
a fairy-tale pure and simple save indeed as to its springing 
not from an artless and measureless, but from a conscious and 
cultivated credulity. Yet the fairy-tale belongs mainly to either 
of two classes, the short and sharp and single, charged more 
or less with the compactness of anecdote (as to which let the 
familiars of our childhood, Cinderella and Blue-Beard and 
Hop o' my Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood and many 
of the gems of the Brothers Grimm directly testify), or else 
the long and loose, the copious, the various, the endless, where, 
dramatically speaking, roundness is quite sacrificed sacrificed 
to fulness, sacrificed to exuberance, if one will: witness at 
hazard almost any one of the Arabian Nights. The charm of 
all these things for the distracted modern mind is in the clear 
field of experience, as I call it, over which we are thus led 
to roam; an annexed but independent world in which nothing 
is right save as we rightly imagine it. We have to do that, and 
we do it happily for the short spurt and in the smaller piece, 
achieving so perhaps beauty and lucidity; we flounder, we 
lose breath, on the other hand that is we fail, not of con- 
tinuity, but of an agreeable unity, of the "roundness" in 
which beauty and lucidity largely reside when we go in, 
as they say, for great lengths and breadths. And this, oddly 
enough, not because "keeping it up" is n't abundantly within 
the compass of the imagination appealed to in certain con- 
ditions, but because the finer interest depends just on how it 
is kept up. 
Nothing is so easy as improvisation, the running on and 



on of invention; it is sadly compromised, however, from the 
moment its stream breaks bounds and gets into flood. Then 
the waters may spread indeed, gathering houses and herds 
and crops and cities into their arms and wrenching off, for 
our amusement, the whole face of the land only violating 
by the same stroke our sense of the course and the channel, 
which is our sense of the uses of a stream and the virtue of 
a story. Improvisation, as in the Arabian Nights, may keep 
on terms with encountered objects by sweeping them in and 
floating them on its breast; but the great effect it so loses 
that of keeping on terms with itself. This is ever, I in- 
timate, the hard thing for the fairy-tale; but by just so much 
as it struck me as hard did it in "The Turn of the Screw" 
affect me as irresistibly prescribed. To improvise with ex- 
treme freedom and yet at the same time without the pos- 
sibility of ravage, without the hint of a flood; to keep the 
stream, in a word, on something like ideal terms with itself: 
that was here my definite business. The thing was to aim 
at absolute singleness, clearness and roundness, and yet to 
depend on an imagination working freely, working (call it) 
with extravagance; by which law it wouldn't be thinkable 
except as free and would n't be amusing except as controlled. 
The merit of the tale, as it stands, is accordingly, I judge, 
that it has struggled successfully with its dangers. It is an 
excursion into chaos while remaining, like Blue-Beard and 
Cinderella, but an anecdote though an anecdote amplified 
and highly emphasised and returning upon itself; as, for that 
matter, Cinderella and Blue-Beard return. I need scarcely 
add after this that it is a piece of ingenuity pure and sim- 
ple, of cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those 
not easily caught (the "fun" of the capture of the merely 
witless being ever but small), the jaded, the disillusioned, the 
fastidious. Otherwise expressed, the study is of a conceived 
"tone," the tone of suspected and felt trouble, of an inordi- 
nate and incalculable sort the tone of tragic, yet of exquisite, 



mystification. 7o knead the subject o my young friend's, the 
supposititious narrator's, mystification thick, and yet strain 
the expression of it so clear and fine that beauty would re- 
sult : no side of the matter so revives for me as that endeavour. 
Indeed if the artistic value of such an experiment be measured 
by the intellectual echoes it may again, long after, set in mo- 
tion, the case would make in favour of this little firm fantasy 
which I seem to see draw behind it to-day a train of associa- 
tions. I ought doubtless to blush for thus confessing them so 
numerous that I can. but pick among them for reference. I 
recall for instance a reproach made me by a reader capable 
evidently, for the time, of some attention, but not quite capable 
of enough, who complained that I hads't sufficiently "charac- 
terised" my young woman engaged in her labyrinth; hadn't 
endowed her with signs and marks, features and humours, 
hadn't in a word invited her to deal with her own mystery 
as well as with that of Peter Quint, Miss Jessel and the hap- 
less children. I remember well, whatever the absurdity of its 
now coming back to me, my reply to that criticism under 
which one's artistic, one's ironic heart shook for the instant 
almost to breaking. "You indulge in that stricture at your 
ease, and I don't mind confiding to you that strange as it may 
appear! one has to choose ever so delicately among one's 
difficulties, attaching one's self to the greatest, bearing hard on 
those and intelligently neglecting the others. If one attempts 
to tackle them all one is certain to deal completely with none; 
whereas the effectual dealing with a few casts a blest golden 
haze under cover of which, like wanton mocking goddesses 
in clouds, the others find prudent to retire. It was c dqa 
tres-joli,' in 'The Turn of the Screw,' please believe, the 
general proposition of our young woman's keeping crystal- 
line her record of so many intense anomalies and obscuri- 
ties by which I don't of course mean her explanation of 
them, a different matter; and I saw no way, I feebly grant 
(fighting, at the best too, periodically, for every grudged inch 


of my space) to exhibit her in relations other than those; 
one of which, precisely, would have been her relation to her 
own nature. We have surely as much of her own nature as 
we can swallow in watching it reflect her anxieties and in- 
ductions. It constitutes no little of a character indeed, in 
such conditions, for a young person, as she says, 'privately 
bred,' that she is able to make her particular credible state- 
ment of such strange matters. She has 'authority/ which 
is a good deal to have given her, and I could n't have arrived 
at so much had I clumsily tried for more." 

For which truth I claim part of the charm latent on oc- 
casion in the extracted reasons of beautiful things putting 
for the beautiful always, in a work of art, the close, the curi- 
ous, the deep. Let me place above all, however, under the 
protection of that presence the side by which this fiction 
appeals most to consideration: its choice of its way of meeting 
its gravest difficulty. There were difficulties not so grave: I 
had for instance simply to renounce all attempt to keep the 
kind and degree of impression I wished to produce on terms 
with the to-day so copious psychical record of cases of appari- 
tions. Different signs and circumstances, in the reports, mark 
these cases; different things are done though on the whole 
very little appears to be by the persons appearing; the point 
is, however, that some things are never done at all: this nega- 
tive quantity is large certain reserves and properties and im- 
mobilities consistently impose themselves. Recorded and at- 
tested "ghosts" are in other words as little expressive, as little 
dramatic, above all as little continuous and conscious and 
responsive, as is consistent with their taking the trouble and 
an immense trouble they find it, we gather to appear at all. 
Wonderful and interesting therefore at a given moment, they 
are inconceivable figures in an action and "The Turn of the 
Screw" was an action, desperately, or it was nothing. I 
had to decide in fine between having my apparitions correct 
and having my story "good" that is producing my im- 



pression of the dreadful, my designed horror. Good ghosts, 
speaking by book, make poor subjects, and it was clear that 
from the first my hovering prowling blighting presences, my 
pair of abnormal agents, would have to depart altogether from 
the rules. They would be agents in fact; there would be laid 
on them the dire duty of causing the situation to reek with the 
air of Evil. Their desire and their ability to do so, visibly meas- 
uring meanwhile their effect, together with their observed and 
described success this was exactly my central idea; so that, 
briefly, I cast my lot with pure romance, the appearances con- 
forming to the true type being so little romantic. 

This is to say, I recognise again, that Peter Quint and Miss 
Jessel are not "ghosts" at all, as we now know the ghost, but 
goblins, elves, imps, demons as loosely constructed as those of 
the old trials for witchcraft; if not, more pleasingly, fairies of 
the legendary order, wooing their victims forth to see them 
dance under the moon. Not indeed that I suggest their reduci- 
bility to any form of the pleasing pure and simple; they please 
at the best but through having helped me to express my sub- 
ject all directly and intensely. Here it was in the use made of 
them that I felt a high degree of art really required; and here 
it is that, on reading the tale over, I find my precautions justi- 
fied. The essence of the matter was the villainy of motive in 
the evoked predatory creatures; so that the result would be 
ignoble by which I mean would be trivial were this ele- 
ment of evil but feebly or inanely suggested. Thus arose on 
behalf of my idea the lively interest of a possible suggestion 
and process of adumbration; the question of how best to con- 
vey that sense of the depths of the sinister without which my 
fable would so woefully limp. Portentous evil how was I 
to save that, as an intention on the part of my demon-spirits, 
from the drop, the comparative vulgarity, inevitably attending, 
throughout the whole range of possible brief illustration, the 
offered example, the imputed vice, the cited act, the limited 
deplorable presentable instance? To bring the bad dead back 



to life for a second round of badness is to warrant them as 
indeed prodigious, and to become hence as shy of specifications 
as of a waiting anti-climax. One had seen, in fiction, some 
grand form of wrong-doing, or better still of wrong-being, 
imputed, seen it promised and announced as by the hot breath 
of the Pit and then, all lamentably, shrink to the compass 
of some particular brutality, some particular immorality, some 
particular infamy portrayed: with the result, alas, of the dem- 
onstration's falling sadly short. If my bad things, for "The 
Turn of the Screw," I felt, should succumb to this danger, i 
they should n't seem sufficiently bad, there would be nothing 
for me but to hang my artistic head lower than I had ever 
known occasion to do. 

The view of that discomfort and the fear of that dishon- 
our, it accordingly must have been, that struck the proper 
light for my right, though by no means easy, short cut. What, 
in the last analysis, had I to give the sense of? Of their being, 
the haunting pair, capable, as the phrase is, of everything- that 
is of exerting, in respect to the children, the very worst action 
small victims so conditioned might be conceived as subject to. 
What would be then, on reflexion, this utmost conceivability? 
a question to which the answer all admirably came. There is 
for such a case no eligible absolute of the wrong; it remains 
relative to fifty other elements, a matter of appreciation, specu- 
lation, imagination these things moreover quite exactly in the 
light of the spectator's, the critic's, the reader's experience. Only 
make the reader's general vision of evil intense enough, I 
said to myself and that already is a charming job and his 
own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with 
the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply 
him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him thinly 
the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released 
from weak specifications. This ingenuity I took pains as indeed 
great pains were required to apply; and with a success ap- 
parently beyond my liveliest hope. Droll enough at the same 



time, I must add, some of the evidence even when most con- 
vincing o this success. How can I feel my calculation to 
have failed, my wrought suggestion not to have worked, that is, 
on my being assailed, as has befallen me, with the charge of a 
monstrous emphasis, the charge of all indecently expatiating? 
There is not only from beginning to end of the matter not an 
inch of expatiation, but my values are positively all blanks save 
so far as an excited horror, a promoted pity, a created ex- 
pertness on which punctual effects of strong causes no writer 
can ever fail to plume himself proceed to read into them 
more or less fantastic figures. Of high interest to the author 
meanwhile and by the same stroke a theme for the moralist 
the artless resentful reaction of the entertained person who 
has abounded in the sense of the situation. He visits his 
abundance, morally, on the artist who has but clung to an 
ideal of faultlessness. Such indeed, for this latter, are some 
of the observations by which the prolonged strain of that cling- 
ing may be enlivened! 

I arrive with "The Liar" (1888) and "The Two Faces" 
(1900) at the first members of the considerable group of 
shorter, of shortest tales here republished; though I should per- 
haps place quite in the forefront "The Chaperon" and "The 
Pupil," at which we have already glanced. I am conscious 
of much to say of these numerous small productions as a 
family a family indeed quite organised as such, with its 
proper representatives, its "heads," its subdivisions and its 
branches, its poor relations perhaps not least: its unmistake- 
able train of poor relations in fact, the very poorer, the poorest 
of whom I am, in family parlance, for this formal appearance 
in society, "cutting" without a scruple. These repudiated mem- 
bers, some of them, for that matter, well-nourished and sub- 
stantial presences enough, with their compromising rustiness 
plausibly, almost touchingly dissimulated, I fondly figure as 
standing wistful but excluded, after the fashion of the outer 
fringe of the connected whom there are not carriages enough 



to convey from the church whether (for we have our choice of 
similes) to the wedding-feast or to the interment! Great for 
me from far back had been the interest of the whole "ques- 
tion of the short story," roundabout which our age has, for 
lamentable reasons, heard so vain a babble; but I foresee 
occasions yet to come when it will abundantly waylay me. 
Then it will insist on presenting itself but in too many lights. 
Little else perhaps meanwhile is more relevant as to "The 
Liar" than the small fact of its having, when its hour came, 
quite especially conformed to that custom of shooting straight 
from the planted seed, of responding at once to the touched 
spring, of which my fond appeal here to "origins" and evo- 
lutions so depicts the sway. When it shall come to fitting, his- 
torically, anything like all my small children of fancy with 
their pair of progenitors, and all my reproductive unions with 
their inevitable fruit, I shall seem to offer my backward con- 
sciousness in the image of a shell charged and recharged by the 
Fates with some patent and infallible explosive. Never would 
there seem to have been a pretense to such economy of ammu- 

However this may be, I come back, for "The Liar," as 
for so many of its fellows, to holding my personal experience, 
poor thing though it may have been, immediately accountable. 
For by what else in the world but by fatal design had I been 
placed at dinner one autumn evening of old London days face to 
face with a gentleman, met for the first time, though favourably 
known to me by name and fame, in whom I recognised the 
most unbridled colloquial romancer the "joy of life" had ever 
found occasion to envy? Under what other conceivable co- 
ercion had I been invited to reckon, through the evening, 
with the type, with the character, with the countenance, of this 
magnificent master's wife, who, veracious, serene and charm- 
ing, yet not once meeting straight the eyes of one of us, did her 
duty by each, and by her husband most of all, without so much 
as, in the vulgar phrase, turning a hair? It was long ago, but 


I have never, to this hour, forgotten the evening itself em- 
balmed for me now in an old-time sweetness beyond any aspect 
of my reproduction. I made but a fifth person, the other 
couple our host and hostess; between whom and one of the 
company, while we listened to the woven wonders of a sum- 
mer holiday, the exploits of a salamander, among Mediter- 
ranean isles, were exchanged, dimly and discreetly, ever so 
guardedly, but all expressively, imperceptible lingering looks. 
It was exquisite, it could but become, inevitably, some "short 
story" or other, which it clearly pre-fitted as the hand the 
glove. I must reserve "The Two Faces" till I come to speak of 
the thrilling question of the poor painter's tormented accep- 
tance, in advance, of the scanted canvas; of the writer's rue- 
ful hopeful assent to the conditions known to him as "too 
little room to turn round." Of the liveliest interest then 
or so at least I could luckily always project the case to see 
how he may nevertheless, in the event, effectively manoeuvre. 
The value of "The Two Faces" by reason of which I have 
not hesitated to gather it in is thus peculiarly an economic 
one. It may conceal rather than exhale its intense little prin- 
ciple of calculation; but the neat evolution, as I call it, the 
example of the turn of the whole coach and pair in the con- 
tracted court, without the "spill" of a single passenger or the 
derangement of a single parcel, is only in three or four cases 
(where the coach is fuller still) more appreciable. 




I HAVE gathered into this volume some early brevities, the 
third in order of which dates from further back than any 
tale comprised in the Edition. The first in order appeared 
considerably later, but I have given it precedence in this group 
by reason of its greatest length. It is the most recent in the 
list, but, as having originally (in the good old days, though 
they are as yet none so remote, of "pleasant" publication) en- 
joyed the honour of two pretty little volumes "all to itself," 
it falls into the category of Shorter Novels under an in- 
dulgence not extended to several of its compeers. "The Rever- 
berator/' which figured at birth (1888) in half a dozen num- 
bers of "Macmillan's Magazine" may be described, I suppose, 
beyond any fiction here reproduced, as a jeu d' esprit: I can 
think at least of none other on the brow of which I may 
presume to place that laurel And yet as I cast about me for 
the nameable grounds of the hospitality I thus give it I find 
myself think of it in other rich lights as well; quite in the 
light of an exemplary anecdote, and at the same time quite 
in that of a little rounded drama. This is to press hard, it 
might seem, on so slight a composition; but I brave the ex- 
travagance under the interest of recognising again how the 
weight of expatiation is ever met in such cases that of the 
slender production equally with that of the stout by a surface 
really much larger than the mere offered face of the work. 



The face o the work may be small in itself, and yet the 
surface, the whole thing, the associational margin and con- 
nexion, may spread, beneath the fond remembering eye, like 
nothing more noble than an insidious grease-spot. It is of the 
essence of the anecdote to get itself told as it can which truth 
represented clearly the best chance of life for the matter in- 
volved in "The Reverberator"; but also it is of the essence of 
the drama to conform to logic, and the pages I here treat of 
may appear at moments not quite predominantly sure either 
of their luck or of their law. This, however, I think, but to a 
cursory glance, for I perhaps do them a wrong in emphasising 
their anecdotic cast. Might I not, certainly, have invoked for 
them in some degree the anecdotic grace I would n't have under- 
taken them at all; but I now see how they were still to have 
been provided for if this had failed them. 

The anecdote consists, ever, of something that has oddly 
happened to some one, and the first of its duties is to point 
directly to the person whom it so distinguishes. He may be 
you or I or any one else, but a condition of our interest 
perhaps the principal one is that the anecdote shall know 
him, and shall accordingly speak of him, as its subject. Who 
is it then that by this rule the specimen before us adopts and 
sticks to? Something happens, and to* a certain person, or, 
better, to a certain group of persons, in "The Reverberator," 
but of whom, when it comes to the point, is the fable nar- 
rated? The anecdote has always a question to answer of 
whom necessarily is it told? Is it told here of the Proberts 
or of the Dossons ? To whom in the instance before us does 
the principal thing, the thing worth the telling, happen? To 
the fatal Mr. Flack, to Francie Dosson and her father and 
sister, lumping them, on the ground of their "racial con- 
sciousness," all together? or to the cluster of scandalised 
Parisians in general, if not to the girl's distracted young lover 
in particular? It is easy, alas, to defy a clear statement on 
this head to be made ("No, I can't say whom or what or 



which I'm about: I seem so sometimes to be about one set 
and sometimes about another!" the little story is free to 
plead) whereby anecdotic grace does break down. Fortu- 
nately there remains another string, a second, to my bow: I 
should have been nowhere, in the event o a challenge, had 
I not concomitantly felt my subject, for all its slightness, as 
a small straight action, and so placed it in that blest drama- 
light which, really making for intelligibility as nothing else 
does, orders and regulates, even when but faintly turned on; 
squares things and keeps them in happy relation to each other. 
What "happens," by that felicity, happens thus to every one 
concerned, exactly as in much more prodigious recitals: it's 
a case just as we have seen it before, in more portentous 
connexions and with the support of mightier comparisons 
of the planned rotation of aspects and of that "scenic" de- 
termination of them about which I fear I may already have 
been a bore. 

After which perhaps too vertiginous explanatory flight I 
feel that I drop indeed to the very concrete and compara- 
tively trivial origin of my story short, that is, of some com- 
petent critical attribution of triviality all round. I am afraid, 
at any rate, that with this reminiscence I but watch my 
grease-spot (for I cling to the homely metaphor) engagingly 
extend its bounds. Who shall say thus and I have put the 
vain question but too often before! where the associational 
nimbus of the all but lost, of the miraculously recovered, chap- 
ter of experience shall absolutely fade and stop? That would 
be possible only were experience a chessboard of sharp black- 
and-white squares. Taking one of these for a convenient plot, 
I have but to see my particle of suggestion lurk in its breast, 
and then but to repeat in this connexion the act of picking 
it up, for the whole of the rest of the connexion straightway 
to loom into life, its parts all clinging together and pleading 
with a collective friendly voice that I can't pretend to resist: 
"Oh but we too, you know; what were we but of the experi- 



ence?" Which comes to scarce more than saying indeed, no 
doubt, that nothing more complicates and overloads the act o 
retrospect than to let one's imagination itself work backward 
as part of the business. Some art of preventing this by keeping 
that interference out would be here of a useful application; and 
would include the question of providing conveniently for the 
officious faculty in the absence of its natural caretakers, the 
Judgment, the memory, the conscience, occupied, as it were, 
elsewhere. These truants, the other faculties of the mind with- 
out exception, I surmise, would then be free to remount the 
stream of time (as an earnest and enquiring band) with the 
flower of the flock, the hope of the family, left at home or 
"boarded out," say, for the time of the excursion. I ha^ve been 
unable, I confess, to make such an arrangement; the conse- 
quence of which failure is that everything I "find," as I look 
back, lives for me again in the light of all the parts, such as 
they are, of my intelligence. Or to express the phenomenon 
otherwise, and perhaps with still more complacency for it, the 
effort to reconstitute the medium and the season that favoured 
the first stir of life, the first perceived gleam of the vital spark, 
in the trifle before us, fairly makes everything in the picture 
revive, fairly even extends the influence to matters remote and 
strange. The musing artist's imagination thus not excluded 
and confined supplies the link that is missing and makes the 
whole occasion (the occasion of the glorious birth to him of 
still another infant motive) comprehensively and richly one. 
And this if that addition to his flock his effusive parental wel- 
come to which seems immediately to cause so splendid and 
furnished and fitted a world to arch over it happens to be 
even of so modest a promise as the tiny principle of "The 

It was in a grand old city of the south of Europe (though 
neither in Rome nor yet in Florence) long years ago, and 
during a winter spent there in the seeing of many people on 
the pleasantest terms in the world, as they now seem to me 



to have been, as well as in the hearing of infinite talk, talk 
mainly, inexhaustibly, about persons and the "personal equa- 
tion" and the personal mystery. This somehow had to be in 
an odd, easy, friendly, a miscellaneous, many-coloured little 
cosmopolis, where the casual exoteric society was a thing o 
heterogeneous vivid patches, but with a fine old native basis, 
the basis that held stoutly enough together while the patches 
dangled and fluttered, stitched on as with thread of silver, 
pinned on as with pearls, lasting their time above all and 
brightening the scene. To allude to the scene, alas! seems 
half an undertaking to reproduce it, any humoursome indul- 
gence in which would lead us much too far. Nor am I strictly 
as if I cultivated an ideal of strictness! concerned with any 
fact but that of the appearance among us, that winter, of a 
charming free young person, superlatively introduced and in- 
finitely admired, who, taken to twenty social bosoms, fig- 
ured "success" in a form, that of the acclaimed and confident 
pretty girl of our prosaic and temperate climes, for which the 
old-world salon, with its windows of iridescent view and its dif- 
ferent conception of the range of charm, had never much pro- 
vided. The old-world salon, in our community, still, when all 
was said, more or less imposed the type and prescribed the tone; 
yet to the charming stranger even these penetralia had not been 
closed, and, over them, to be brief, she had shed her influence, 
just as among them, not less, she had gathered her harvest. 
She had corne, in fine, she had seen and had conquered; after 
which she had withdrawn with her spoil. Her spoil, to put it 
plainly, had been a treasure of impressions; her harvest, as I 
have said, a wealth of revelations. I made an absence of sev- 
eral weeks, I went to Florence and to Rome, but I came back 
in the spring and all to encounter the liveliest chatter of sur- 
prise that had perhaps ever spent itself under the elegant 
massive ceilings for which the old-world salons were famous. 
The ingenious stranger it was awfully coming to light had 
written about them, about these still consciously critical rc- 


treats, many of them temples harbouring the very altar of 
the exclusive; she had made free with them, pen in hand, 
with the best conscience in the world, no doubt, but to a 
high effect of confidence betrayed, and to the amazement 
and consternation of every one involved, though most of all, 
naturally, to the dismay of her primary backers. 

The young lady, frankly, a graceful amateur journalist, 
had made use of her gathered material; she had addressed 
to a newspaper in her native city (which no power on earth 
would induce me to designate, so that as to this and to the 
larger issue, not less, of the glamour of its big State-name, 
I defy all guesses) a letter as long, as confidential, as "chatty," 
as full of headlong history and limping legend, of aberra- 
tion and confusion, as she might have indited to the most 
trusted of friends. The friend trusted had been, as happened, 
simply the biggest "reading public" in the world, and the 
performance, typographically bristling, had winged its way 
back to its dishonoured nest like some monstrous black bird 
or beetle, an embodiment of popping eyes, a whirl of brand- 
ished feathers and claws. Strange, it struck me, to tell the 
truth, the fact itself of "anybody's knowing," and still more 
of anybody's caring the fact itself, that is, of such prompt 
repercussion and recognition: one would so little, in advance, 
have supposed the reverberation of the bomb, its heeded 
reverberation, conceivable. No such consequence, clearly, had 
been allowed for by its innocent maker, for whose imagina- 
tion, one felt sure, the explosion had not been designed to be 
world-shaking. The recording, slobbering sheet, as an ob- 
ject thinkable or visible in a medium so non-conducting, made 
of actual recognition, made even of the barest allusion, the 
falsest of false notes. The scandal reigned, however, and the 
commotion lasted, a nine days' wonder; the ingenuous 
stranger's name became anathema, and all to the high profit 
of an incorrigible collector of "cases." Him in his depth of 
perversity, I profess, the flurry of resentment could only, after 


a little, affect as scarce more charged with wisdom than the poor 
young lady's miscalculated overflow itself; so completely beside 
the question of the finer comparative interest remained that of 
the force of the libel and that of the degree of the injury. The 
finer interest was in the facts that made the incident a case, 
and the true note of that, I promptly made sure, was just in 
the extraordinary amount of native innocence that positively 
had to be read into the perpetrated act. The couple of columns 
in the vulgar newspaper constituted no document whatever on 
the manners and morals of the company of persons "betrayed," 
but on the other hand, in its indirect way, flooded "Ameri- 
can society" with light, became on that side in the highest 
degree documentary. So it was, I soon saw, that though the 
perpetrated act was in itself and immediately no "situation, 5 * 
it nevertheless pointed to one, and was for that value to be 
stored up. 

It remained for a long time thus a mere sketched finger- 
post: the perpetrated act had, unmistakeably, meant some- 
thingone couldn't make out at first exactly what; till at 
last, after several years of oblivion, its connexions, its illus- 
trative worth, came quite naturally into view. It fell in short 
into the wider perspective, the very largest fund of impres- 
sions and appearances, perhaps, that the particular observer's 
and designer's mind was to have felt itself for so long queerly 
weighted with. I have already had occasion to say that the 
"international" light lay thick, from period to period, on 
the general scene of my observation a truth the reasons and 
bearings of which will require in due course to be intelligibly 
stated; everything that possibly could, at any rate, managed 
at that time (as it had done before and was undiscourage- 
ably to continue to do) to be international for me: which was 
an immense resource and a happy circumstance from many 
points of view. Therefore I may say at once that if no partic- 
ular element or feature of the view had struck me from far back 
as receiving so much of the illumination as the comparative 



state of innocence of the spirit of my countryfolk, by that 
same token everything had a price, was of immediate appli- 
cation and found itself closely interwoven, that could tend 
to emphasise or vivify the innocence. I had indeed early to 
recognise that I was in a manner shut up to the contem- 
plation of it really to the point, it has often seemed to me 
these pages must testify, of appearing to wander, as under some 
uncanny spell, amid the level sands and across the patchless 
desert of a single and of a not especially rich or fruitful aspect. 
Here, for that matter, comes in one of the oddest and most 
interesting of facts as I measure it; which again will take 
much stating, but to which I may provisionally give this im- 
portance, that, sketchily speaking, if I had n't had, on behalf 
of the American character, the negative aspects to deal with, I 
should practically, and given the limits of my range, have had 
no aspects at all. I shall on a near pretext, as I say, develop the 
sense of this; but let it now stand for the .obvious truth that the 
negative sides were always at me, for illustration, for interpre- 
tation, and that though I looked yearningly, from time to time, 
over their collective head, though, after an experimental baffled 
sniff, I was apt to find myself languish for sharper air than 
any they exhaled, they constantly gave me enough, and more 
than enough, to "tackle," so that I might even well ask my- 
self what more miscellaneous justice I should have been able 
to render. 

Given, after this fashion, my condition of knowledge, the 
most general appearance of the American (of those days) in 
Europe, that of being almost incredibly unaware of life 
as the European order expressed life had to represent for 
me the whole exhibitional range; the particular initiation on 
my own part that would have helped me to other apprehen- 
sions being absolutely bolted and barred to me. What this 
alternative would have stood for we shall immediately see; 
but meanwhile and nothing could have been at once more 
inevitable, more logical and more ridiculous I was reduced 



to studying my New Yorkers and my Bostonians, since there 
were enough of these alone and to spare, under the queer rubric 
of their more or less stranded helplessness. If asked why I 
describe in such terms the appearances that most appealed to 
me, I can only wo-nder how the bewildered state of the per- 
sons principally figuring in the Americano-European prospect 
could have been otherwise expressed. They come back to me, 
in the lurid light of contrast, as irresistibly destitute of those 
elements of preparedness that my pages show even the most 
limited European adventure to call into play. This at least 
was, by my retrospect, the inveterate case for the men it dif- 
fered only for certain of the women, the younger, the youngest, 
those of whom least might at the best have been expected, and 
in the interest of whose "success" their share of the character- 
istic blankness underwent what one might call a sea-change. 
Conscious of so few things in the world, these unprecedented 
creatures since that is what it came to for them were least 
of all conscious of deficiencies and dangers; so that, the grace 
of youth and innocence and freshness aiding, their negatives 
were converted and became in certain relations lively positives 
and values. I might give a considerable list of those of my 
fictions, longer and shorter, in which this curious conversion is 
noted. Suffice it, at all events, in respect to the show at large, 
that, even as testifying but to a suffered and suffering state, and 
working beauty and comedy and pathos but into that compass, 
my procession of figures which kept passing, and indeed kept 
pausing, by no act of my own left me with all I could manage 
on my hands. 

This will have seemed doubtless a roundabout approach to 
my saying that I seized the right connexion for our roaring 
young lioness of the old-world salons from the moment I 
qualified her as, in spite of the stimulating commerce enjoyed 
with them, signally "unaware of life." What had she lacked 
for interest? what had her case lacked for application? what 
in the world but just that perceived reference to something 



larger, something more widely significant? What was so 
large, what so widely significant in its general sphere, as that, 
"otherwise" so well endowed and appointed, as that, altogether 
so well constituted and introduced, she could have kept up 
to the end (the end of our concern with her) the state of un- 
awareness? Immense at any rate the service she so rendered 
the brooding critic capable of taking a hint from her, for she 
became on the spot an inimitable link with the question of 
what it might distinguishably be in their own flourishing 
Order that could J^eep them, the passionless pilgrims, so un- 
aware? This was the point one had caught them in the act 
of it; of a disposition, which had perhaps even most a comic 
side, to treat "Europe," collectively, as a vast painted and gilded 
holiday toy, serving its purpose on the spot and for the time, 
but to be relinquished, sacrificed, broken and cast away, at the 
dawn of any other convenience. It seemed to figure thus not 
only as a gorgeous dressed doll, the most expensive plaything, 
no doubt, in the world, but as a living doll, precisely, who 
would speak and act and perform, all for a "charge" which 
was the reason both of the amusement and of the cost. Only 
there was no more responsibility to a living doll than to a dead 
so that, in fine, what seemed most absent from the frolic 
intercourse was the note of anything like reciprocity: unless in- 
deed the so prompt and frequent newspaperisation of any 
quaint confidence extracted by pressure on the poor doll's 
stomach, of any droll sight of powers set in motion by twitch 
of whatever string, might serve for a rendering of that ideal. 
It had reached one's ear again and again from beyond the sea, 
this inveteracy, as one might almost call it, of the artless ven- 
tilation, and mainly in the public prints, of European matter 
originally gathered in under the supposed law of privilege en- 
joyed on the one hand and security enjoyed on the other. A 
hundred good instances confirmed this tradition that nothing 
in the new world was held accountable to anything in the old, 
that the hemispheres would have been as dissociated as differ- 



ent planets had n't one of them, by a happy miracle, come in 
for the comparatively antique right of free fishing in the other. 
It was the so oft-attested American sense of the matter that 
was meanwhile the oddity the sense on the part of remote ad- 
venturous islanders that no custom of give-and-take between 
their bustling archipelago and the far, the massed continent 
was thinkable. Strangely enough, none the less, the continent 
was anecdotically interesting to the islands though as soon as 
these were reached all difference between the fruit of the pri- 
vate and the fruit of the public garden naturally dropped. 
More than all was it striking that the "naturalness" was all of 
American making in spite, as had ever seemed to me, of the 
American tradition to- the contrary; the tradition that Europe, 
much rather, had originally made social commerce unequal. 
Europe had had quite other matters on her hands; Europe had, 
into the bargain, on what might n't be newspaperised or other- 
wise ventilated, quite her own religion and her own practice. 
This superstition held true of the fruits of curiosity wherever 
socially gathered, whether in bustling archipelagos or in neigh- 
bouring kingdoms. It did n't, one felt, immensely signify, all 
the while; small harm was done, and it was surely rare that 
any was intended; for supreme, more and more, is the blest 
truth sole safety, as it mostly seems, of our distracting age 
that a given thing has but to be newspaperised enough (which 
it may, at our present rate of perfection, in a few hours) to re- 
turn, as a quick consequence, to the common, the abysmal air 
and become without form and void. This life of scant seconds, 
as it were, by the sky-scraping clock, is as good for our sense 
and measure of the vulgar thing, for keeping apprehension 
down and keeping immunity up, as no life at all; since in the 
midst of such preposterous pretensions to recorded or reflected 
existence what particular vulgarity, what individual blatancy, 
can prevail ? Still over and above all of which, too, we are made 
aware of a large new direct convenience or resource the beau- 
tiful facility thus rendered the individual mind for what it shall 



denominate henceforth ignoring in the lump: than which 
nothing is more likely to work better, I suggest, toward a finer 
economy of consciousness. For the new beauty is that the 
lump, the vast concretion of the negligible, is, thanks to pro- 
digious expensive machinery working all ad hoc, carefully 
wrought and prepared for our so dealing with it; to the great 
saving of our labour of selection, our own not always too be- 
guiled or too sweetened picking over of the heap. 

Our ingenious young friend of the shocked saloons to 
finish her history had just simply acted in the tradition; 
she had figured herself one of the islanders, irresponsible in 
their very degree, and with a mind as closed to the "coming 
back" of her disseminated prattle as if it would have had in 
fact to be wafted from another planet. Thus, as I say, the 
friendliest initiations offered her among ancient seats had still 
failed to make her what I have called "aware." Here it was 
that she became documentary, and that in the flash of some 
new and accessory light, the continued procession of figures 
equally fallible, yet as little criminal, her bedimmed precedent 
shone out for me once more; so that when I got my right and 
true reference, as I say, for the instance commemorated in "The 
Reverberator," and which dangled loosely from the peg sup- 
plied by the earlier case, this reference was much more directly 
to the pathetic than to anything else. The Dosson family, here 
before us, are sunk in their innocence, sunk in their irremedi- 
able unawareness almost beyond fishing out. This constituted 
for handling them, I quite felt, a serious difficulty; they could 
be too abandoned and pathetic, as the phrase is, to live, and 
yet be perfectly true; but on the other hand they could be per- 
fectly true and yet too abandoned for vivification, too consent- 
ingly feeble to be worth saving. Even this, still, would n't mate- 
rially limit in them the force of the characteristicit was ex- 
actly in such formless terms that they would speak best for 
the majority of their congeners; and, in fine, moreover, there 
was this that I absolutely had to save for the love of my sub- 



ject-matter at large the special appeal attached to the mild 
figure of Francina. I need scarcely point out that "round" 
Francie Dosson the tale is systematically constructed; with 
which fact was involved for me the clear sense that if I 
did n't see the Francie Dossons (by whom I mean the general 
quaint sisterhood, perfectly distinguishable then, but displaced, 
disfeatured, "discounted" to-day, for all I know) as always and 
at any cost at whatever cost of repetition, that is worth 
saving, I might as well shut up my international department. 
For practically -as I have said already more than enough 
to convey they were what the American branch of that equa- 
tion constantly threw me back upon; by reason indeed of a 
brace of conditions only one of which strictly inhered in the 
show itself. 

In the heavy light of "Europe" thirty or forty years ago, 
there were mo-re of the Francie Dossons and the Daisy Mil- 
lers and the Bessie Aldens and the Pandora Days than of 
all the other attested American objects put together more 
of them, of course I mean, from the moment the weird har- 
vester was at all preoccupied with charm, or at all com- 
mitted to "having to have" it. But quite apart from that 
truth was always the stiff fact, against which I might have 
dashed myself in vain, that I hadn't the data for a right ap- 
proach to the minor quantities, such as they might have been 
made out to be. The minor quantities appeared, consistently, 
but in a single light that of promiscuous obscure attend- 
ance on the Daisies and Bessies and Francies; a generalized 
crepuscular state at best, even though yielding little by little 
a view of dim forms and vague differences. These adum- 
brations, sufficient tests once applied, claimed identities as 
fathers, mothers, even sometimes as satellites more directly 
"engaged"; but there was always, for the author of this rec- 
ord, a prompt and urgent remark to be made about them 
which placed him, when all was said, quite at his ease. 
The men, tie non-European, in these queer clusters, the 



fathers, brothers, playmates, male appendages of whatever 
presumption, were visible and thinkable only as the American 
"business-man"; and before the American business-man, as 
I have been prompt to declare, I was absolutely and irre- 
deemably helpless, with no fibre of my intelligence respond- 
ing to his mystery. No approach I could make to him on 
his "business side" really got near it. That is where I was 
fatally incompetent, and this in turn the case goes into a 
nutshell is so obviously why, for any decent documentation, 
I was simply shut up to what was left me. It takes but a 
glance to see how the matter was in such a fashion simpli- 
fied. With the men wiped out, at a stroke, so far as any 
grasp of the principle of their activity was concerned (what 
in the name of goodness did I, or could I, know, to call 
know, about the very alphabet of their activity?), it wasn't 
the elder woman I could take, on any reckoning, as compen- 
satory: her inveterate blankness of surface had a manner all 
its own of defying the imagination to hover or to hope. There 
was really, as a rule, nothing whatever to be done with the 
elder woman; not only were reason and fancy alike fore- 
warned not to waste their time, but any attempt upon her, 
one somehow felt, would have been indecorous and almost 
monstrous. She wasn't so much as in question; since if one 
could work it out for the men that the depreciated state 
with which they vaguely and, as it were, somnolently strug- 
gled, was perhaps but casual and temporary, might be regarded 
in fact as the mere state of the medal with its right face acci- 
dentally turned down, this redemption never glimmered for 
the wife and mother, in whom nothing was in eclipse, but 
everything rather (everything there was at all) straight in 
evidence, and to whom therefore any round and complete em- 
bodiment had simply been denied. 

"A Passionate Pilgrim," written in the year 1870, the earli- 
est date to which anything in the whole present series refers 
itself, strikes me to-day, and by the same token indescribably 



touches me, with the two compositions that follow it, as sops 
instinctively thrown to the international Cerberus formidably 
posted where I doubtless then didn't quite make him out, 
yet from whose capacity to loom larger and larger with the 
years there must already have sprung some chilling portent. 
Cerberus would have been, thus, to one's younger artistic 
conscience, the keeper of the international "books"; the hov- 
ering disembodied critical spirit with a disengaged eye upon 
sneaking attempts to substitute the American romantic for 
the American real. To that comparatively artless category the 
fiction I have just named, together with "Madame de Mauves" 
and "The Madonna of the Future," belong. As American as 
possible, and even to the pitch of fondly coaxing it, I then 
desired my ground-stuff to remain; so that such situations as 
are thus offered must have represented my prime view of the 
telling effect with which the business-man would be dodged. 
He is dodged, here, doubtless, to a charm he is made to wait 
as in the furthest and coldest of an infinite perspective of more 
or less quaint antechambers; where my ingenuous theory of the 
matter must have been that, artfully trifled with from room 
to room and from pretext to pretext, he might be kept in- 
definitely at bay. Thus if a sufficient amount of golden dust 
were kicked up in the foreground and I began to kick it, 
under all these other possible pretexts, as hard as I knew 
how, he would probably never be able, to my confusion, to 
break through at all. I had in the spring of 1869, and again 
in that of 1870, spent several weeks in England, renewing 
and extending, with infinite zest, an acquaintance with the 
country that had previously been but an uneffaced little 
chapter of boyish, or putting it again far enough back for 
the dimmest dawn of sensibilityof infinite experience; and 
had, perceptively and aesthetically speaking, taken the adven- 
ture of my twenty-sixth year "hard," as "A Passionate Pil- 
grim*' quite sufficiently attests. 
A part of that adventure had been the never-to-be-for* 



gotten thrill of a first sight of Italy, from late in the summer 
of 1869 on; so that a return to America at the beginning of 
the following year was to drag with it, as a lengthening 
chain, the torment of losses and regrets. The repatriated vic- 
tim of that unrest was, beyond doubt, acutely conscious of 
his case: the fifteen months just spent in Europe had abso- 
lutely determined his situation. The nostalgic poison had been 
distilled for him, the future presented to him but as a single 
intense question: was he to spend it in brooding exile, or 
might he somehow come into his "own" ? as I liked betimes 
to put it for a romantic analogy with the state of dispossessed 
princes and wandering heirs. The question was to answer itself 
promptly enough yet after a delay sufficient to give me the 
measure of a whole previous relation to it. I had from as far 
back as I could remember carried in my side, buried and 
unextracted, the head of one of those well-directed shafts from 
the European quiver to which, of old, tender American flesh 
was more helplessly and bleedingly exposed, I think, than to- 
day: the nostalgic cup had been applied to my lips even before 
I was conscious of it I had been hurried off to London and to 
Paris immediately after my birth, and then and there, I was 
ever afterwards strangely to feel, that poison had entered my 
veins. This was so much the case that when again, in my 
thirteenth year, re-exposure was decreed, and was made effec- 
tive and prolonged, my inward sense of it was, in the oddest 
way, not of my finding myself in the vague and the un- 
charted, but much rather restored to air already breathed and 
to a harmony already disclosed. The unnatural precocity with 
which I had in fine "taken" to Europe was to be revealed to 
me later on and during another quite languishing American 
interval; an interval during which I supposed my young life 
to have been made bitter, under whatever appearances of smug 
accommodation, by too prompt a mouthful recklessly admin- 
istered to one's helplessness by responsible hands of the fruit 
of the tree of knowledge. Why otherwise so queer a taste. 


always, in so juvenile, so generally gaping, a mouth? Well,, 
the queer taste doubtless had been there, but the point of my 
anecdote, with my brace of infatuated "short stories" for its 
occasion, is in the infinitely greater queerness it was to take 
on between the summer of '70 and that of '72, when it set me 
again in motion. 

As I read over "A Passionate Pilgrim" and "The Madonna 
of the Future" they become in the highest degree documen- 
tary for myself from all measure of such interest as they 
may possibly have at this time of day for others I stand off; 
though I disengage from them but one thing, their betrayal 
of their consolatory use. The deep beguilement of the lost 
vision recovered, in comparative indigence, by a certain in- 
expert intensity of art the service rendered by them at need, 
with whatever awkwardness and difficulty sticks out of them 
for me to the exclusion of everything else and consecrates 
them, I freely admit, to memory. "Madame de Mauves" and 
"Louisa Pallant" are another matter; the latter, in especial, be- 
longs to recent years. The former is of the small group of my 
productions yielding to present research no dimmest responsive 
ghost of a traceable origin. These remarks have constituted to 
excess perhaps the record of what may have put this, that and 
the other treated idea into my head; but I am quite unable to 
say what, in the summer of 1873, may have put "Madame de 
Mauves." Save for a single pleasant image, and for the fact 
that, dispatched to New York, the tale appeared, early in the 
following year, in "The Galaxy," a periodical to which I find, 
with this, twenty other remembrances gratefully attached, not 
a glimmer of attendant reference survives. I recall the toler- 
ably wide court of an old inn at Bad-Homburg in the Taunus 
hills a dejected and forlorn little place (its seconds jeunesse 
not yet in sight) during the years immediately following the 
Franco-Prussian war, which had overturned, with that of 
Baden-Baden, its altar, the well-appointed worship of the great 
goddess Chance a homely enclosure on the ground-level of 



which I occupied a dampish, dusky, unsunned room, cool, 
however, to the relief of the fevered muse, during some very 
hot weather. The place was so dark that I could see my wa) 
to and from my inkstand, I remember, but by keeping the door 
to the court open thanks to which also the muse, witness of 
many mild domestic incidents, was distracted and beguiled. 
In this retreat I was visited by the gentle Euphemia; I sat in 
crepuscular comfort pouring forth again, and, no doubt, art- 
fully editing, the confidences with which she honoured me. 
She again, after her fashion, was what I might have called 
experimentally international; she muffled her charming head 
in the lightest, finest, vaguest tissue of romance and put twenty 
questions by. "Lousia Pallant," with still subtler art, I find, 
completely covers her tracks her repudiation of every ray of 
legend being the more marked by the later date (1888) of her 
appearance. Charitably affected to her and thus disposed, if the 
term be not arrogant, to hand her down, I yet win from her no 
shadow of an intelligible account of herself. I had taken posses- 
sion, at Florence, during the previous year, of a couple of sunny 
rooms on the Arno just at the point where the Borg' Ognissanti 
begins to bore duskily westward; and in those cheerful cham- 
bers (where the pitch of brightness differed so from that of the 
others just commemorated) I seem to have found my subject 
seated in extreme assurance. I did my best for it one February 
while the light and the colour and the sound of old Italy played 
in again through my open windows and about my patient table 
after the bold loud fashion that I had had, from so much be- 
fore, to teach myself to think directly auspicious when it might 
be, and indirectly when it might n't. 








I HAVE gathered into this volume several short fictions of the 
type I have already found it convenient to refer to as "interna- 
tional" though I freely recognise, before the array of my pro- 
ductions, of whatever length and whatever brevity, the general 
applicability of that term. On the interest of contrasted things 
any painter of life and manners inevitably much depends, and 
contrast, fortunately for him, is easy to seek and to recognise; 
the only difficulty is in presenting it again with effect, in extract- 
ing from it its sense and its lesson. The reader of these volumes 
will certainly see it offered in no form so frequent or so salient 
as that of the opposition of aspects from country to country. 
Their author, I am quite aware, would seem struck with no 
possibility of contrast in the human lot so- great as that encount- 
ered as we turn back and forth between the distinctively Ameri- 
can and the distinctively European outlook. He might even per- 
haps on such a showing be representd as scarce aware, before 
the human scene, of any other sharp antithesis at all. He is far 
from denying that this one has always been vivid for him; yet 
there are cases in which, however obvious and however con- 
tributive, its office for the particular demonstration, has been 
quite secondary, and in which the work is by no means merely 
addressed to the illustration of it. These things have had in the 
latter case their proper subject: as, for instance, the subject of 
"The Wings of the Dove," or that of "The Golden Bowl," has 


not been the exhibited behaviour of certain Americans as Ameri- 
cans, o certain English persons as English, of certain Romans 
as Romans. Americans, Englishmen, Romans are, in the whole 
matter, agents or victims; but this is in virtue of an association 
nowadays so developed, so easily to be taken for granted, as to 
have created a new scale of relations altogether, a state of things 
from which emphasised internationalism has either quite 
dropped or is well on its way to drop. The dramatic side of hu- 
man situations subsists of course on contrast; and when we 
come to the two novels I have just named we shall see, for ex* 
ample, just how they positively provide themselves with that 
source of interest We shall see nevertheless at the same time 
that the subject could in each case have been perfectly expressed 
had all the persons concerned been only American or only Eng- 
lish or only Roman or whatever. 

If it be asked then, in this light, why they deviate from that 
natural harmony, why the author resorts to the greater ex- 
travagance when the less would serve, the answer is simply that 
the course taken has been, on reflexion, the course of the greater 
amusement. That is an explanation adequate, I admit, only 
when itself a little explained but I shall have due occasion to 
explain it. Let me for the moment merely note that the very 
condition I here glance at that of the achieved social fusion, 
say, without the sense and experience of which neither "The 
Wings of the Dove," nor "The Golden Bowl," nor "The Portrait 
of a Lady," nor even, after all, I think, "The Ambassadors," 
would have been written represents a series of facts of the 
highest interest and one that, at this time of day, the late-com- 
ing observer and painter, the novelist sometimes depressed by 
all the drawbacks of a literary form overworked and relaxed, 
can only rejoice to meet in his path and to measure more and 
more as a portent and an opportunity. In proportion as he in- 
telligently meets it, and more especially in proportion as he may 
happen to have "assisted" from far back at so many of the odd 
and fresh phenomena involved, must he see a vast new 



province, infinitely peopled and infinitely elasticby which I 
mean with incalculable power to grow annexed to the king- 
dom of the dramatist. On this point, however, much more is 
to be said than I can touch on by the way so that I return to 
my minor contention; which is that in a whole group of tales I 
here collect the principle of illustration has on the other hand 
quite definitely been that the idea could not have expressed it- 
self without the narrower application of international terms. 
The contrast in "Lady Barbarina" depends altogether on the 
immitigable Anglicism of this young woman and that equally 
marked projection of New York elements and objects which, 
surrounding and framing her figure, throws it into eminent re- 
lief. She has her personal qualities, but the very interest, the 
very curiosity of the matter is that her imbroglio is able to at- 
test itself with scarce so much as a reference to them. It plays 
itself out quite consistently on the plane of her general, her in- 
stinctive, her exasperatedly conscious ones. The others, the 
more intimate, the subtler, the finer so far as there may have 
been such virtually become, while the story is enacted, not 
relevant, though their relevancy might have come up on some 
other basis. 

But that this is true, always in its degree, of each of the other 
contributions to the class before us, we shall sufficiently make 
out, I think, as we take them in their order. I am only struck, 
I may indeed parenthesise, with the inveteracy of the general 
ground (not to say of the extension I give it) over which my 
present remarks play. It does thus in truth come home to me 
that, combining and comparing in whatever proportions and by 
whatever lights, my "America" and its products would doubt- 
less, as a theme, have betrayed gaps and infirmities enough 
without such a kicking-up of the dramatic dust (mainly in the 
foreground) as I could set my "Europe" in motion for; just as 
my Europe would probably have limped across our stage to no 
great effect of processional state without an ingenuous young 
America (constantly seen as ingenuous and young) to hold up 



its legendary train. At the same time I pretend not at all to re- 
gret my having had from the very first to see my workable 
world all and only as an unnatural mixture. No mixture, for 
that matter, is quite unnatural unless quite sterile, and the 
particular range of associations that betimes, to my eyes, 
blocked out everything else, blocked out aspects and combina- 
tions more simply conditioned, was at least not open to the re- 
proach of not giving me results. These were but what they 
could be, of course; but such as they were, at all events, here am 
I at this time of day quite earnestly grouping, distinguishing, 
discussing them. The great truth in the whole connexion, 
however, is, I think, that one never really chooses one's general 
range of vision the experience from which ideas and themes 
and suggestions spring: this proves ever what it has had to be, 
this is one with the very turn one's life has taken; so that what- 
ever it "gives," whatever it makes us feel and think of, we re- 
gard very much as imposed and inevitable. The subject thus 
pressed upon the artist is the necessity of his case and the fruit 
of his consciousness; which truth makes and has ever made of 
any quarrel with his subject, any stupid attempt to go behind 
that, the true stultification of criticism. The author of these re- 
marks has in any case felt it, from far back, quite his least 
stupid course to meet halfway, as it were, the turn taken and 
the perceptions engendered by the tenor of his days. Here it is 
that he has never pretended to "go behind" which would have 
been for him a deplorable waste of time. The thing of profit 
is to have your experience to recognise and understand it, and 
for this almost any will do; there being surely no absolute ideal 
about it beyond getting from it all it has to give. The artist 
for it is of this strange brood we speak has but to have his 
honest sense of life to find it fed at every pore even as the birds 
of the air are fed; with more and more to give, in turn, as a 
consequence, and, quite by the same law that governs the re- 
sponsive affection of a kindly-used animal, in proportion as 
more and more is confidently asked, 



All of which, however, doubtless wanders a little far from 
my mild argumentthat of my so grateful and above all so 
well-advised primary acceptance of a determined array of ap- 
pearances. What I was clearly to be treated to by fate with the 
early-taken ply I have already elsewhere glanced at was 
(should I have the intelligence to embrace it) some considerable 
occasion to appreciate the mixture of manners. So, as I say, 
there would be a decent economy in cultivating the intelligence; 
through the sincerity of which process I have plucked, I hold, 
every little flower of a "subject" pressed between the leaves of 
these volumes. I am tempted indeed to make for my original 
lucidity the claim of something more than bare prudence al- 
most that of a happy instinctive foresight. This is what I mean 
by having been "well-advised." It was as if I had, vulgarly 
speaking, received quite at first the "straight tip" to back the 
right horse or buy the right shares. The mixture of manners 
was to become in other words not a less but a very much more 
appreciable and interesting subject of study. The mixture of 
manners was in fine to loom large and constantly larger all 
round; it was to be a matter, plainly, about which the future 
would have much to say. Nothing appeals to me more, I con- 
fess, as a "critic of life" in any sense worthy of the name, than 
the finer if indeed thereby the less easily formulated group of 
the conquests of civilisation, the multiplied symptoms among 
educated people, from wherever drawn, of a common intelli- 
gence and a social fusion tending to abridge old rigours of 
separation. This too, I must admit, in spite of the many-col- 
oured sanctity of such rigours in general, which have hitherto 
made countries smaller but kept the globe larger, and by which 
immediate strangeness, immediate beauty, immediate curiosity 
were so much fostered. Half our instincts work for the main- 
tained differences; without them, for instance, what would 
have been the point of the history of poor Lady Barbarina? I 
have but to put that question, I must add, to feel it beautifully 
large; for there looms before me at its touch the vision of a 



Lady Barbarina reconciled, domesticated, developed, o possibly 
greater vividness than the quite other vision expressed in these 
pages. It is a question, however, of the tendency, perceptive as 
well as reflective too, of the braver imagination which faculty, 
in our future, strikes me as likely to be appealed to much less 
by the fact, by the pity and the misery and the greater or less 
grotesqueness, of the courageous, or even of the timid, missing 
their lives beyond certain stiff barriers, than by the picture of 
their more and more steadily making out their opportunities 
and their possible communications. Behind all the small come- 
dies and tragedies of the international, in a word, has exquisite- 
ly lurked for me the idea of some eventual sublime consensus 
of the educated; the exquisite conceivabilities of which, intel- 
lectual, moral, emotional, sensual, social, political all, I mean, 
in the face of felt difficulty and danger constitute stuff for such 
"situations" as may easily make many of those of a more famil- 
iar type turn pale. There, if one will in the dauntless fusions 
to come is the personal drama of the future. 

We are far from it certainly as I have delayed much too 
long to remark in the chronicle of Lady Barb. I have placed 
this composition (1888) at the top of my list, in the present 
cluster, despite the earlier date of some of its companions; con- 
sistently giving it precedence by reason of its greatest length. 
The idea at the root of it scarcely brooks indication, so inevita- 
ble had it surely become, in all the conditions, that a young 
Englishwoman in some such predicament should figure as the 
happy pictorial thought. The whole thing rests, I need scarce 
point out, on the most primitive logic. The international rela- 
tion had begun to present itself "socially," after the liveliest 
fashion, a quarter of a century ago and earlier, as a relation of 
intermarrying; but nothing was meanwhile so striking as that 
these manifestations took always the same turn. The European 
of "position" married the young American woman, or the 
young American woman married the European of position 
one scarce knew how best to express the regularity of it; but the 



social field was scanned in vain for a different pairing. No 
American citizen appeared to offer his hand to the "European" 
girl, or if he did so offered it in vain. The bridal migrations were 
eastward without exception as rigidly as if settled by statute. 
Custom clearly had acquired the force of law; a fact remarka- 
ble, significant, interesting and even amusing. And yet, withal, 
it seemed scarce to demand explanations. So far as they ap- 
peared indeed they were confident on the American side. The 
representatives of that interest had no call in life to go "outside" 
for their wives having obviously close at hand the largest and 
choicest assortment of such conveniences; as was sufficiently 
proved by the European "run" on the market. What American 
run on any foreign market had been noted? -save indeed al- 
ways on the part of the women! It all redounded to the honour 
and glory of the young woman grown in American conditions 
to cast discredit on whose general peerlessness by attested 
preference for other types could but strike the domestic aspirant 
as an act of disloyalty or treachery. It was just the observed 
rarity of the case therefore that prompted one to put it to the 
imaginative test. Any case so unlikely to happen taking it for 
at all conceivable could only be worth attention when it 
should, once in a blue moon, occur. There was nothing mean- 
while, in truth, to "go by"; we had seen the American girl "of 
position" absorbed again and again into the European social 
system, but we had only seen young foreign candidates for 
places as cooks and housemaids absorbed into the American. 
The more one viewed the possible instance, accordingly, the 
more it appealed to speculative study; so that, failing all valid 
testimony, one had studiously, as it were, to forge the very 

I have only to add that I found mine, once I had produced 
them, thoroughly convincing: the most one could do, in the 
conditions, was to make one's picture appear to hang together, 
and I should have broken down, no doubt, had my own, after 
a. superficial question or two, not struck me as decently hanging. 



The essential, at the threshold, I seem to recall, was to get my 
young man right I somehow quite took for granted the get- 
ting of my young woman. Was this because, for the portrait of 
Lady Barb, I felt appealed to so little in the name of shades? 
Shades would be decidedly neither of her general world nor of 
her particular consciousness: the image I had in view was a 
maiden nature that, after a fashion all its own, should show as 
fine and complete, show as neither coarse nor poor, show above 
all as a resultant of many causes, quite without them. I felt in 
short sure of Lady Barb, and I think there is no question about 
her, or about the depth of root she might strike in American 
soil, that I should n't have been ready on the spot to answer. 
Such is the luck of the conception that imposes itself en bloc 
or such at least the artist's luck in face of it; such certainly, to 
begin with and "subjectively" speaking, is the great advantage 
of a character all of a piece: immediacy of representation, the 
best omens for felicity, then so honourably await it. It was Jack- 
son Lemon and his shades, comparatively, and his comparative 
sense for shades, that, in the tale, most interested me. The one 
thing fine-drawn in his wife was that she had been able to care 
for him as he was: to almost every one and every thing else 
equally American, to almost every one and every thing else so 
sensibly stamped, toned and warranted, she was to find herself 
quite otherwise affected. With her husband the law was re- 
versed he had, much rather, imputed authority and dignity, 
imputed weight and charm, to the antecedents of which she was 
so fine and so direct a consequence; his estimate, his apprecia- 
tion of her being founded thus on a vision of innumerable close 
correspondences. It is that vision in him that is racked, and at 
so many fine points, when he finds their experiment come so 
near failure; all of which at least as I seem to see it again so 
late in the day lights his inward drama as with the never- 
quenched lamp of a sacred place. His wife's, on the other hand, 
goes on in comparatively close darkness. 
It is indeed late in the day that I thus project the ray of my 



critical lantern, however; for it comes over me even as I write 
that the general air in which most of these particular flowers of 
fancy bloom is an air we have pretty well ceased to breathe. 
"Lady Barbarina" is, as I have said, scarce a quarter of a 
century old; but so many of the perceived conditions in which 
it took birth have changed that the account of them embodied 
in that tale and its associates will already pass for ancient his- 
tory. "Civilisation" and education move fast, after all, and too 
many things have happened; too many sorts of things, above all, 
seem more and more likely to happen. This multiplication of 
kinds of occurrences, I make no doubt, will promote the inspira- 
tion of observers and poets to come; but it may meanwhile 
well make for an effect of superannuation in any record of 
the leaner years. Jackson Lemon's has become a more fre- 
quent adventure and Lady Barbarina is to-day as much at her 
ease in New York, in Washington, at Newport, as in London 
or in Rome. If this is her case, moreover, it is still more that 
of little Mrs. Headway, of "The Siege of London" (1883), who 
suffers, I feel, by the sad circumstance that her type of compli- 
cation, or, more exactly speaking perhaps, that of the gentle- 
men concerned with her, is no longer eminent, or at least 
salient. Both she and her friends have had too many com- 
panions and successors; so that to reinvest them with historic 
importance, with individual dignity, I have to think of them 
rather as orave precursors, as adventurous skirmishers and 
eclaireurs. This does n't diminish, I recognise, any interest that 
may reside in the form either of "The Siege" aforesaid or of 
its congeners "An International Episode," "A Bundle of Let- 
ters" and "The Pension Beaurepas." Or ratKer Indeed perhaps 
I should distinguish among these things and, if presuming to 
claim for several some hint of the distinction we may see exem- 
plified in any first-class art-museum, the distinction of the 
archaic subject treated by a "primitive" master of high finish, 
yet notice duly that others are no more "quaint" than need be. 
What has really happened, I think, is that the great interna- 



tional cases, those that bristle with fifty sorts o social reference 
and overflow, and, by the same token, with a hundred illustra 
tions of social incoherence, are now equally taken for granted 
on all sides of the sea, have simply become incidents and ex- 
amples of the mixture of manners, as I call it, and the thicker 
fusion: which may mean nothing more, in truth, but that social 
incoherence (with the sense for its opposite practically extinct 
among the nations) has at last got itself accepted, right and 
left, as normal. 

So much, as I put it, for the great cases; but a certain fresh- 
ness, I make out, still hangs strangely enough about the smaller 
and the more numerous; those to which we owe it that such 
anecdotes in my general array as "Pandora," as "Fordham 
Castle," as "Flickerbridge," as "Miss Gunton of Poughkeepsie/' 
are by no means false even to present appearances. "The Pen- 
sion Beaurepas" is not alone, thanks to some of its associations, 
in glowing for me with the tender grace of a day that is dead; 
and yet, though the accidents and accessories, in such a picture, 
may have been marked for change, why shall not the essence 
of the matter, the situation of Mr. and Mrs, Ruck and their 
daughter at old Geneva for there is of course a new, a newer 
Geneva freely recur? I am careful to put it as a question, and 
all for a particular reason the reason that, to be frank, I find 
myself, before the vast diluvian occidental presence in Europe, 
with its remorseless rising tide and its positive expression of al- 
most nothing but quantity and number, deprived, on definite 
and ample grounds, of the precious faculty of confidence. This 
confidence was of old all instinctive, in face of the "common 
run" of appearances, the even then multitudinous, miscella- 
neous minor international phenomena, those of which the "short 
story," as contemporaneously practised, could effect a fairly 
prompt and easy notation; but it is now unmistakeable that to 
come forth, from whatever privacy, to almost any one of the 
great European highways, and more particularly perhaps to 
approach the ports of traffic for the lately-developed and so 



flourishing "southern route" from New York and Boston, is to 
encounter one of those big general questions that sturdily brush 
away the multiplication of small answers. "Who are they, what 
are they, whence and whither and why?" the "critic of life," in- 
ternational or other, still, or more and more, asks himself, as he 
or. course always asked, but with the actual difference that the 
reply that used to come so conveniently straight, "Why, they're 
just the American vague variety of the dear old Anglo-Saxon 
race,' 1 not only hangs fire and leaves him to wait and wonder, 
but really affects him as having for this act of deference (as to 
which he can't choose, I admit) little more than a conscious 
mocking, baffling, in fact a just all but sinister, grimace. 
"Don't you wish you knew, or even could know?" the inscruta- 
ble grin seems to convey; and with resources of cynicism be- 
hind it not in the least to be disturbed by any such cheap retort 
as "Don't you wish that, on your side, you could say or even, 
for your own convenience, so much as guess?" 

For there is no communicating to the diluvian presence, on 
such a scale, any suspicion that convenience shall anywhere 
fail it: all its consciousness, on that general head, is that of it- 
self representing and actively being the biggest convenience of 
the world. Little need to insist on the guarantee of subjective 
ease involved in such an attitude the immense noted growth 
of which casts its chill, as I intimate, on the enquirer proceeding 
from settled premisses. He was aware formerly, when it came 
to an analysis, of all his presumptions; he had but to glance for 
an immemorial assurance at a dozen of the myriad "registers" 
disposed in the vestibules of bankers, the reading-rooms of 
hotels and "exchanges," open on the most conspicuous table of 
visited palace and castle, to see them bristle with names of a 
more or less conceivable tradition. Queer enough often, 
whether in isolation or in association, were these gages of iden- 
tity : but their queerness, not independent of some more or less 
traceable weird law, was exactly, after all, their most familiar 
note. They had their way of not breaking, through it all, the 



old sweet Anglo-Saxon spell; they had their way of not falling, 
when all was said, to suggest more communities and compre- 
hensions than conundrums and "stunts." He would be brave, 
however, who should say that any such ghost of a quiet con- 
formity presides in the fulness of time over the interminable 
passenger-lists that proclaim the prosperity of the great convey- 
ing companies. If little books have their fates, little names 
and long ones still more have their eloquence; the emphasis 
of nominal reference in the general roll-call falls so strongly up- 
on alien syllables and sounds, representative signs that fit into 
our "English" legend (as we were mainly conscious up to a 
few years since of having inherited that boon) scarcely more 
than if borrowed from the stony slabs of Nineveh. I may not 
here attempt to weigh the question of what these exotic symbols 
positively represent a prodigious question, I cannot but think; 
I content myself with noting the difference made for fond fancy 
by the so rapidly established change, by the so considerable 
drop of old associations. The point is of one's having the heart 
to assume that the Ninevites, as I may momentarily call them 
for convenience, are to be constantly taken as feeling in the 
same way about fifty associational matters as we used, in all 
satisfaction, to observe our earlier generations feel. One can 
but speak for one's self, and my imagination, on the great high- 
ways, I find, doesn't rise to such people, who are obviously be- 
yond my divination. They strike one, above all, as giving no 
account of themselves in any terms already consecrated by hu- 
man use; to this inarticulate state they probably form, collec- 
tively, the most unprecedented of monuments; abysmal the 
mystery of what they think, what they feel, what they want, 
what they suppose themselves to be saying. There would ap- 
pear to be to-day no slim scrap even of a Daisy Miller to bridge 
the chasm; no light-footed Francie Dosson or Pandora Day to 
dance before one across the wavering plank. 

I plead a blank of memory as to the origin of "The Siege of 
London'*; I get no nearer to the birth of the idea than by recall- 



ing a certain agitation of the spirit, a lively irritation o the 
temper, under which, one evening early in the autumn of 1877, 
that is more than thirty years ago, I walked away from the 
close of a performance at the Theatre Fractals. The play had 
been "Le Demi-Monde" of the younger Dumas, a masterpiece 
which I had not heard for the first time, but a particular feature 
of which on this occasion more than ever yet filled up the meas- 
ure of my impatience. I could less than ever swallow it, Olivier 
de Jalin's denunciation of Madame d'Ange; the play, from the 
beginning, marches toward it it is the main hinge of the ac- 
tion; but the very perfection with which the part was rendered 
in those years by Delaunay (just as Croizette was pure perfec- 
tion as Suzanne) seemed to have made me present at some- 
thing inhuman and odious. It was the old story that from the 
positive, the prodigious morality of such a painter of the sophis- 
ticated life as Dumas, not from anything else or less edifying, 
one must pray to be delivered. There are doubtless many pos- 
sible views of such a dilemma as Olivier 's, the conflict of pro- 
priety for him between the man he likes and esteems and the 
woman he has loved but has n't esteemed and does n't, and as to 
whom he sees his friend blind, and, as he thinks, befooled; in 
consequence of which I am not re-judging his case. But I re- 
cover with a pensive pleasure that is almost all a pang the in- 
tensity with which I could then feel it; to the extent of wonder- 
ing whether the general situation of the three persons con- 
cerned, or something like it, might n't be shown as taking quite 
another turn. Was there not conceivable an Olivier of our race, 
a different Olivier altogether, moved to ask himself how at such 
a juncture a "real gentleman," distressed and perplexed, would 
yet most naturally act? The question would be interesting, it 
was easy to judge, if only by the light it might throw on some 
of the other, the antecedent and concomitant, phases of a real 
gentleman's connexion "at all at all" with such a business and 
such a world. It remained with me, at all events, and was to 
prove in time the germ of "The Siege of London"; of the con- 



ception of which the state of mind so reflected strikes me as 
making, I confess, very ancient history. 

Far away and unspeakably regretted the days, alas, or, more 
exactly, the nights, on which one could walk away from the 
Franf ais under the spell of such fond convictions and such deep 
and agitating problems. The emphasis of the international 
proposition has indeed had time, as I say, to place itself else- 
where if, for that matter, there be any emphasis or any prop- 
osition left at all since the age when that particular pleasure 
seemed the keenest in life. A few months ago, one evening, I 
found myself withdrawing from the very temple and the sup- 
posedly sacred rites before these latter were a third aver: be- 
neath that haunted dome itself they seemed to have become at 
last so accessible, cynically making their bargain with them, to 
the profanations long kept at bay. Only, with that evolution of 
taste possible on the part of the old worshipper in question, 
what world-convulsions might n't, in general, well have taken 
place? Let me continue to speak of the rest of the matter here 
before us as therefore of almost pre-historic reference. I was to 
make, in due course, at any rate, my limited application of that 
glimmering image of a M. de Jalin with whom we might have 
more fellow-feeling, and I sent "The Siege of London" accord- 
ingly to my admirable friend the late Leslie Stephen, then editor 
of "The Cornhill Magazine, 5 * where it appeared during the 
two first months of 1883. That is all I remember about it save 
always the particular London light in which at that period I 
invoked the muse and drove the pen and with which the com- 
positions resulting strike my fancy to-day as so closely inter- 
fused that in reading over those of them I here preserve every 
aspect and element of my scene of application lives again for 
me. This scene consisted of small chambers in a small street 
that opened, at a very near corner, into Piccadilly and a view 
of the Green Park; I had dropped into them almost instan- 
taneously, under the accepted heavy pressure of the autumnal 
London of 1876, and was to sit scribbling in them for nearly 



ten years. The big human rumble of Piccadilly (all human 
and equine then and long after) was close at hand; I liked 
to think that Thackeray's Curzon Street, in which Becky 
Sharp, or rather Mrs. Rawdon Crawley, had lived, was not 
much further off: I thought of it preponderantly, in my com- 
ings and goings, as Becky's and her creator's; just as I was 
to find fifty other London neighbourhoods speak to me almost 
only with the voice, the thousand voices, of Dickens. 

A "great house," forming the southwest corner of Pic- 
cadilly and with its long and practically featureless side, con- 
tinued by the high wall of its ample court, opposite my open- 
eyed windows, gloomed, in dusky brick, as the extent of my 
view, but with a vast convenient neutrality which I found, 
soon enough, protective and not inquisitive, so that what- 
ever there was of my sedentary life and regular habits took 
a sort of local wealth of colour from the special greyish- 
brown tone of the surface always before me. This surface 
hung there like the most voluminous of curtains it masked 
the very stage of the great theatre of the town. To sit for 
certain hours at one's desk before it was somehow to occupy 
in the most suitable way in the world the proportionately 
ample interests of the mightiest of dramas. When I went 
out it was as if the curtain rose; so that, to repeat, I think 
of my tolerably copious artistry of that time as all the fruit 
of the inter-acts, with the curtain more or less quietly down 
and with the tuning of fiddles and only the vague rumble of 
shifted scenery playing round it and through it. There were 
absences of course: "A Bundle of Letters," here reproduced 
took birth (1879) during certain autumn weeks spent in 
Paris, where a friend of those years, a young London jour- 
nalist, the late Theodore Child (of Merton College Oxford, 
who was to die, prematurely and lamentedly, during a gal- 
lant professional tour of exploration in Persia) was fondly 
carrying on, under difficulties, an Anglo-American period- 
ical called "The Parisian." He invited me to contribute to 



its pages, and again, a small sharply-resonant street off the 
Rue de la Paix, where all existence somehow went on as a 
repercussion from well-brushed asphalt, lives for me as the 
scene of my response. A snowstorm of a violence rare in 
Paris raged, I recollect, for many hours, for the greater part 
of a couple of days; muffling me noiselessly into the small, 
shiny, shabby salon of an hotel garni with a droll combina- 
tional, almost cosmic sign, and promoting (it comes back to 
me) a deep concentration, an unusual straightness of labour. 
"A Bundle of Letters" was written in a single long session 
and, the temperature apart, at a "heat." Its companion- 
piece, "The Point of View," marks not less for memory, I 
find, an excursion associated with diligence. I have no heart 
to "go into" these mere ingenious and more or less effective 
pleasantries to any tune beyond this of glancing at the other, 
the extinct, actualities they hold up the glimmering taper 
to. They are still faintly scented, doubtless, with something 
of that authenticity, and a living work of art, however limited, 
pretends always, as for part of its grace, to some good faith of 
community, however indirect, with its period and place. 

To read over "The Point of View" has opened up for 
me, I confess, no contentious vista whatever, nothing but the 
faded iridescence of a far-away Washington spring. This, 
in 1881, had been my first glimpse of that interesting city, 
where I then spent a few weeks, a visit repeated the fol- 
lowing year; and I remember beginning on the first occa- 
sion a short imaginary correspondence after the pattern of 
the then already published "Bundle of Letters." After an 
absence from America of some five years I inevitably, on 
the spot again, had impressions; and not less inevitably and 
promptly, I remember, recognised the truth that if one really 
was subject to such, and to a good many, and they were at 
all worth entertaining or imparting, one was likely to bristle 
with a quite proportionately smaller number of neat and com- 
placent conclusions. Impressions could mutually conflict 



which was exactly the interest of them; whereas in ninety- 
nine connexions out of a hundred, conclusions could but 
raise the wind for large groups of persons incapable, to all 
appearance, of intelligently opening their eyes, though much oc- 
cupied, to make up for it, with opening, and all vociferously, 
their mouths. "The Point of View," in fine, I fear, was but 
to commemorate, punctually enough, its author's perverse and 
incurable disposition to interest himself less in his own (al- 
ways so quickly stale) experience, under certain sorts of 
pressure, than in that of conceivable fellow mortals, which 
might be mysteriously and refreshingly different. The thing 
indeed may also serve, in its degree, as a punctual small monu- 
ment to a recognition that was never to fail; that of the 
nature of the burden bequeathed by such rash multiplications 
of the candid consciousness. They are splendid for experience, 
the multiplications, each in its way an intensifier; but expres- 
sion, liking things above all to be made comfortable and easy 
for it, views them askance. The case remains, none the less; 
alas for this faculty! that no representation of life worth 
speaking of can go forward without them. All of which will 
perhaps be judged to have but a strained relevance, however, 
to the fact that, though the design of the short imaginary cor- 
respondence I speak of was interrupted during those first 
weeks in Washington, a second visit, the following spring, 
served it better; I had kept the thread (through a return to 
London and a return again thence) and, if I remember rightly, 
I brought my small scheme to a climax on the spot. The fin- 
ished thing appeared in "The Century Magazine" of December 
1882. I recently had the chance to "look up," for old sake's 
sake, that momentary seat of the good-humoured satiric muse 
the seats of the muses, even when the merest flutter o 
one of their robes has been involved, losing no scrap of sanc- 
tity for me, I profess, by the accident of my having myself 
had the honour to offer the visitant the chair. The chair I 
had anciently been able to push forward in Washington had 



not, I found, survived the ravage of nearly thirty years; its 
place knew it no more, infirm and precarious dependence 
as it had struck me even at the time as being. So, quite ex- 
quisitely, as whenever that lapse occurs, the lost presence, 
the obliterated scene, translated itself for me at last into 
terms of almost more than earthly beauty and poetry. Fifty 
intimate figures and objects flushed with life in the other 
time had passed away since then; a great chapter of history 
had made itself, tremendous things had happened; the ghosts 
of old cherished names, of old tragedies, of old comedies, 
even of old mere mystifications, had* marshalled their array. 
Only the little rounded composition remained; which glowed, 
ever so strangely, like a swinging, playing lantern, with a 
light that brought out the past. The past had been most 
concretely that, vanished and slightly sordid tenement of the 
current housing of the muse. I had had "rooms" in it, and 
I could remember how the rooms, how the whole place, a 
nest of rickety tables and chairs, lame and disqualified uten- 
sils of every sort, and of smiling, shuffling, procrastinating 
persons of colour, had exhaled for me, to pungency, the do- 
mestic spirit of the "old South." I had nursed the unmis- 
takeable scent; I had read history by its aid; I had learned 
more than I could say of what had anciently been the matter 
under the reign of the great problem of persons of colour 
so badly the matter, by my vision, that a deluge of blood and 
fire and tears had been needed to correct it. These com- 
placencies of perception swarmed for me again while yet 
no brick of the little old temple of the revelation stood on 

I could scarcely have said where the bricks had stood; 
the other, the superseded Washington of the exquisite spring- 
time, of the earlier initiation, of the hovering plaintive ghosts, 
reduced itself to a great vague blur of warmth and colour 
and fragrance. It kept flushing through the present very 
much as if I had had my small secret for making it. I could 



turn on my finger the magic ringit was strange how slight 
a thing, a mere handful of pages of light persistent prose, 
could act as that talisman. So, at all events, I like to date, 
and essentially to synchronise, these sincere little studies in 
general Nothing perhaps can vouch better for their having 
applied to conditions that superficially at least have changed 
than the fact that to fond memory I speak of my own 
there hangs about the last item on this list, the picture of 
"The Pension Beaurepas," the unearthly poetry, as I call 
it, of the Paquis, and that I should yet have to plunge into 
gulfs of explanation as to where and what the Paquis may 
have been. An old-world nook of one's youth was so named, 
a scrap of the lakeside fringe of ancient Geneva, now prac- 
tically quite reformed and improved away. The Pension 
Beaurepas, across the years, looks to me prodigiously archaic 
and incredibly quaint; I ask myself why, at the time, I so 
wasted the precious treasure of a sense that absolutely primi- 
tive pre-revolutionary "Europe" had never really been swept 
out of its cupboards, shaken out of its curtains, thumped out 
of its mattresses. The echoes of the eighteenth century, to go no 
further back, must have been thick on its rather greasy stone 
staircase, up and down which, unconscious of the character 
of the fine old wrought-iron rampe, as of most other things in 
the world besides, Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Ruck, to speak only 
of them, used mournfully to straggle. But I mustn't really so 
much as speak only, as even speak, of them. They would carry 
me too far back which possibly outlived verisimilitude in 
them is what I wish to acknowledge. 




MY clearest remembrance of any provoking cause connected 
with the matter of the present volume applies, not to the com- 
position at the head of my list which owes that precedence 
to its greatest length and earliest date but to the next in 
order, an effort embalmed, to fond memory, in a delightful 
association. I make the most of this passage of literary his- 
tory I like so, as I find, to recall it. It lives there for me 
in old Kensington days; which, though I look back at them 
over no such great gulf of years "The Death of the Lion" 
first appeared but in 1894 have already faded for me to 
the complexion of ever so long ago. It was of a Sunday after- 
noon early in the spring of that year: a young friend, a Ken- 
sington neighbour and an ardent man of letters, called on me 
to introduce a young friend of his own and to bespeak my in- 
terest for a periodical about to take birth, in his hands, on the 
most original "lines" and with the happiest omens. What 
omen could be happier for instance than that this infant recneil, 
joyously christened even before reaching the cradle, should 
take the name of "The Yellow Book"? which so certainly 
would command for it the liveliest attention. What, further, 
should one rejoice more to hear than that this venture was, 
for all its constitutional gaiety, to brave the quarterly form, 
a thing hitherto of austere, of awful tradition, and was indeed 



in still other ways to sound the note of bright young defiance? 
The project, modestly and a little vaguely but all communi- 
catively set forth, amused me, charmed me, on the spot or at 
least the touchingly convinced and inflamed projector did. It 
was the happy fortune of the late Henry Harland to charge 
everything he touched, whether in life or in literature, with 
that influence an effect by which he was always himself the 
first to profit. If he came to me, about "The Yellow Book,** 
amused, he pursued the enterprise under the same hilarious 
star; its difficulties no less than its felicities excited, in the event, 
his mirth; and he was never more amused (nor, I may certainly 
add, more amusing) than when, after no very prolonged 
career, it encountered suddenly and all distressfully its term. 
The thing had then been to him, for the few years, a humor- 
ous uneasy care, a business attended both with other troubles 
and other pleasures; yet when, before the too prompt harshness 
of his final f rustration, I reflect that he had adventurously lived, 
wrought and enjoyed, the small square lemon-coloured quar- 
terly, "failure" and all, figures to me perhaps his most be- 
guiling dream and most rewarding hours. 

The bravest of the portents that Sunday afternoon the 
intrinsic, of course I mean; the only ones to-day worth speak- 
ing of I have yet to mention; for I recall my rather em- 
barrassed inability to measure as yet the contributory value 
of Mr. Aubrey Beardsley, by whom my friend was accom- 
panied and who, as his prime illustrator, his perhaps even 
quite independent picture-maker, was to be in charge of the 
"art department." This young man, slender, pale, delicate, 
unmistakeably intelligent, somehow invested the whole prop- 
osition with a detached, a slightly ironic and melancholy 
grace. I had met him before, on a single occasion, and had 
seen an example or two of his so curious and so disconcert- 
ing talent my appreciation of which seems to me, however, 
as I look back, to have stopped quite short. The young 
recueil was to have pictures, yes, and they were to be as 



often as possible from Beardsley's hand; but they were to 
wear this unprecedented distinction, and were to scatter it 
all about them, that they should have nothing to do with the 
text which put the whole matter on an ideal basis. To those 
who remember the short string of numbers of "The Yellow 
Book" the spasmodic independence of these contributions will 
still be present. They were, as illustrations, related surely to 
nothing else in the same pages save once or twice, as I im- 
perfectly recall, to some literary effort of Beardsley's own that 
matched them in perversity; and I might well be at peace as to 
any disposition on the part of the strange young artist ever 
to emulate my comparatively so incurious text. There would 
be more to say about him, but he must not draw me off from a 
greater relevance my point being simply that he had asso- 
ciated himself with Harland that brave day to dangle before 
me the sweetest aid to inspiration ever snatched by a poor 
scribbler from editorial lips. I should sooner have come to 
this turn of the affair, which at once bathed the whole prospect 
in the rosiest glow. 

I was invited, and all urgently, to contribute to the first 
number, and was regaled with the golden truth that my com- 
position might absolutely assume, might shamelessly parade 
in, its own organic form. It was disclosed to me, wonder- 
fully, that so golden the air pervading the enterprise any 
projected contribution might conform, not only unchallenged 
but by this circumstance itself the more esteemed, to its true 
intelligible nature. For any idea I might wish to express 
I might have space, in other words, elegantly to express it 
an offered licence that, on the spot, opened up the millen- 
nium to the "short story." One had so often known this 
product to struggle, in one's hands, under the rude prescrip- 
tion of brevity at any cost, with the opposition so offered to its 
really becoming a story, that my friend's emphasised indif- 
ference to the arbitrary limit of length struck me, I remem- 
ber, as the fruit of the finest artistic intelligence. We had 



been at one that we already knew on the truth that the 
forms of wrought things, in this order, were, all exquisitely 
and effectively, the things; so that, for the delight of man- 
kind, form might compete with form and might correspond to 
fitness; might, that is, in the given case, have an inevitability, 
a marked felicity. Among forms, moreover, we had had, on the 
dimensional ground for length and breadth our ideal, the 
beautiful and blest nouvelle; the generous, the enlightened 
hour for which appeared thus at last to shine. It was under 
the star of the nouvelle that, in other languages, a hundred 
interesting and charming results, such studies on the minor 
scale as the best of TurgeniefFs, of Balzac's, of Maupassant's, 
of Bourget's, and just lately, in our own tongue, of Kipling's, 
had been, all economically, arrived at thanks to their authors', 
as "contributors," having been able to count, right and left, 
on a wise and liberal support. It had taken the blank misery 
of our Anglo-Saxon sense of such matters to organise, as might 
be said, the general indifference to this fine type of composition, 
In that dull view a "short story" was a "short story," and that 
was the end of it. Shades and differences, varieties and styles, 
the value above all of the idea happily developed, languished, 
to extinction, under the hard-and-fast rule of the "from six 
to eight thousand words" when, for one's benefit, the rigour 
was a little relaxed. For myself, I delighted in the shapely 
nouvelle as, for that matter, I had from time to time and here 
and there been almost encouraged to show. 

However, these are facts quite of the smaller significance 
and at which I glance only because I seem still to recognise 
in those of my three bantlings held by Harland at the bap- 
tismal font "The Death of the Lion" (1894), "Tta Coxon 
Fund" (1894), "The Next Time" (1895), plus a paper not here 
to be reproduced something of the less troubled confidence 
with which they entered on their first state of being. These 
pieces have this in common that they deal all with the liter- 
ary life, gathering their motive, in each case, from some noted 



adventure, some felt embarrassment, some extreme predica- 
ment, of the artist enamoured of perfection, ridden by his 
idea or paying for his sincerity. They testify indeed, as they 
thus stand together, to no general intention- they minister 
only, i think, to an emphasised eftect. The particular case, in 
respect to each situation depicted, appealed tc me but on its 
merits; though I was to note with interest, as my sense more 
and more opened itself^ that situations of the order I speak of 
might again and again be conceived. They rose before me, in 
fine, as numerous, and thus, here, even with everything not 
included, they have added themselves up, I must further men- 
tion that if they enjoy in common their reference to the 
troubled artistic consciousness, they make together, by the same 
stroke, this other rather blank profession, that few of them 
recall to me, however dimly, any scant pre-natal phase. 

In putting them sundry such critical questions so much 
after the fact I find it interesting to make out critically in- 
teresting of course, which is all our interest here pretends to be 
that whereas any anecdote about life pure and simple, as 
it were, proceeds almost as a matter of course from some good 
jog of fond fancy's elbow, some pencilled note on somebody 
else's case, so the material for any picture of personal states 
so specifically complicated as those of my hapless friends in 
the present volume will have been drawn preponderantly from 
the depths of the designer's own mind. This, amusingly 
enough, is what, on the evidence before us, I seem critically, as 
I say, to gather that the states represented, the embarass- 
ments and predicaments studied, the tragedies and comedies 
recorded, can be intelligibly fathered but on his own intimate 
experience. I have already mentioned the particular rebuke 
once addressed me on all this ground, the question of where on 
earth, where roundabout us at this hour, I had "found" my Neil 
Paradays, my Ralph Limberts, my Hugh Verekers and other 
such supersubtle fry. I was reminded then, as I have said, that 
these represented eminent cases fell to the ground, as by their 



foolish weight, unless I could give chapter and verse for the 
eminence. I was reduced to confessing I couldn't, and yet must 
repeat again here how little I was so abashed. On going over 
these things I see, to our critical edification, exactly why 
which was because I was able to plead that my postulates, my 
animating presences, were all, to their great enrichment, their 
intensification of value, ironic; the strength of applied irony 
being surely in the sincerities, the lucidities, the utilities that 
stand behind it. When it's not a campaign, of a sort, on behalf 
of the something better (better than the obnoxious, the pro- 
voking object) that blessedly, as is assumed, might be, it's not 
worth speaking of. But this is exactly what we mean by oper- 
ative irony. It implies and projects the possible other case, the 
case rich and edifying where the actuality is pretentious and 
vain. So it plays its lamp; so, essentially, it carries that smoke- 
less flame, which makes clear, with all the rest, the good 
cause that guides it. My application of which remarks is that 
the studies here collected have their justification in the ironic 
spirit, the spirit expressed by my being able to reply promptly 
enough to my friend: "If the life about us for the last thirty 
years refuses warrant for these examples, then so much the 
worse for that life. The constatation would be so deplorable 
that instead of making it we must dodge it: there are decen- 
cies that in the name of the general self-respect we must take 
for granted, there's a kind of rudimentary intellectual honour 
to which we must, in the interest of civilisation, at least pre- 
tend." But I must really reproduce the whole passion of my 

"What does your contention of non-existent conscious ex- 
posures, in the midst of all the stupidity and vulgarity and 
hypocrisy, imply but that we have been, nationally, so to 
speak, graced with no instance of recorded sensibility fine 
enough to react against these things? an admission too 
distressing. What one would accordingly fain do is to 
baffle any such calamity, to create the record, in default of 



any other enjoyment of it; to imagine, in a word, the hon- 
ourable, the producible case. What better example than this 
of the high and helpful public and, as it were, civic use of 
the imagination ? a faculty for the possible fine employments 
of which in the interest of morality my esteem grows every 
hour I live. How can one consent to make a picture of the 
preponderant futilities and vulgarities and miseries of life 
without the impulse to exhibit as well from time to time, in its 
place, some fine example of the reaction, the opposition or the 
escape? One does, thank heaven, encounter here and there 
symptoms of immunity from the general infection; one recog- 
nises with rapture, on occasion, signs of a protest against the 
rule of the cheap and easy; and one sees thus that the tradition 
of a high aesthetic temper needn't, after all, helplessly and 
ignobly perish. These reassurances are one's warrant, accord- 
ingly, for so many recognitions of the apparent doom and the 
exasperated temper whether with the spirit and the career 
fatally bruised and finally broken in the fray, or privileged but 
to gain from it a finer and more militant edge. I have had, I 
admit, to project signed specimens have had, naturally, to 
make and to keep rny cases interesting; the only way to achieve 
which was to suppose and represent them eminent. In other 
words I was inevitably committed, always, to the superior 
case; so that if this is what you reprehensively mean, that I have 
been thus beguiled into citing celebrities without analogues 
and painting portraits without models, I plead guilty to the 
critical charge. Only what I myself mean is that I carry 
my guilt lightly and have really in face of each perpetrated 
licence scarce patience to defend myself." So I made my 
point and so I continued. 

"I can't tell you, no, who it is I 'aimed at' in the story 
of Henry St. George; and it wouldn't indeed do for me to 
name his exemplar publicly even were I able. But I none 
the less maintain his situation to have been in essence an 
observed reality though I should be utterly ashamed, I equally 



declare, if I hadn't done quite my best for it. It was the 
fault of this notable truth, and not my own, that it too ob- 
scurely lurked dim and disengaged; but where is the work 
of the intelligent painter of life if not precisely in some such 
aid given to true meanings to be born? He must bear up 
as he can if it be in consequence laid to him that the flat 
grows salient and the tangled clear, the common worst of 
all! even amusingly rare, by passing through his hands. Just 
so when you ask who in the world I had in mind for a victim, 
and what in the world for a treasure, so sacrificed to the ad- 
vertisement not even of their own merits but of all sorts oi 
independent, of really indifferent, exhibitory egotism, as the 
practically harried and hunted Neil Paraday and his borrowed 
brandished and then fatally mislaid manuscript, I'm equally 
confident of having again and again closely noted in the social 
air all the elements of such a drama. I've put these elements 
together that was my business, and in doing this wished of 
course to give them their maximum sense, which depended, for 
irony, for comedy, for tragedy, in other words for beauty, on 
the 'importance' of the poor foredoomed monarch of the 
jungle. And then, I'm not ashamed to allow, it was amusing 
to make these people 'great,' so far as one could do so with- 
out making them intrinsically false. (Yes for the mere ac- 
cidental and relative falsity I don't care.) It was aumbry} 
because it was more difficult from the moment, of course I 
mean, that one worked out at all their greatness; from the 
moment one didn't simply give it to be taken on trust 
Working out economically almost anything is the very life 
of the art of representation; just as the request to take on 
trust, tinged with the least extravagance, is the very death 
of the same, (There may be such a state of mind brought 
about on the reader's part, I think, as a positive desire to 
take on trust; but that is only the final fruit of insidious 
proceedings, operative to a sublime end, on the author's side; 
and is at any rate a different matter.) As for the all-mgen* 



ious "Figure in the Carpet," let me perhaps a little pusil- 
lanimously conclude, nothing would induce me to come into 
close quarters with you on the correspondences of this anec- 
dote. Here exactly is a good example for you of the virtue 
of your taking on trust when I have artfully begotten in 
you a disposition. All I can at this point say is that if ever 
I was aware of ground and matter for a significant fable, I 
was aware of them in that connexion." 

My plea for "correspondences" will perhaps, however, after 
all, but bring my reader back to my having, at the outset 
of these remarks, owned to full unconsciousness of seed 
dropped here by that quick hand of occasion that had else- 
where generally operated; which comes to saying, no doubt, 
that in the world of letters things don't at this time of day 
very strikingly happen. Suggestive and illuminating incident 
is indeed scarce frequent enough to be referred to as admin- 
istering the shake that starts up fresh the stopped watch of at- 
tention. I shouldn't therefore probably have accumulated these 
illustrations without the sense of something interchangeable, 
or perhaps even almost indistinguishable, between my own 
general adventure and the more or less lively illustration into 
which I was to find this experiment so repeatedly flower. Let 
it pass that if I am so oddly unable to say here, at any point, 
"what gave me my idea," I must just a trifle freely have 
helped myself to it from hidden stores. But, burdened thus 
with the imputation of that irregularity, I shall give a poor 
account of my homogeneous group without the charity of a 
glance, however brief, at its successive components. However 
I might have been introduced in fact to Henry St. George, 
of "The Lesson of the Master," or however I might have been 
deprived of him, my complete possession of him, my active 
sympathy with him as a known and understood and admired 
and pitied, in fine as a fully measured, quantity, hangs about 
the pages still as a vague scent hangs about thick orchard 
trees*. The great sign of a grasped warrant for identification, 



arrest or whatever is, after all, in the confidence that dissi- 
pates vagueness; and the logic of such developed situations 
as those of the pair commemorated at the head of my list 
imposed itself all triumphantly. Had n't one again and again 
caught "society" in the very fact of not caring in the least what 
might become of the subject, however essentially fine and 
fragile, of a patronage reflecting such credit on all concerned, 
so long as the social game might be played a little more in- 
tensely, and i possible more irrelevantly, by this unfortunate's 
aid? Given the Lion, his "death" was but too conceivably the 
issue of the cruel exposure thus involved for him; and if it be 
claimed by what I can but feel rather a pedantic view that so 
precious an animal exactly could n't, in our conditions, have 
been "given," I must reply that I yet had met him though in 
a preserve not perhaps known in all its extent to geographers. 
Of such a fantasy as "The Next Time" the principle would 
surely soon turn up among the consulted notes; of any sincere 
man of letters taking literature, that is, on the side of the 
money to be earned by it. There are beautiful talents the 
exercise of which yet isn't lucrative, and there are pressing 
needs the satisfaction of which may well appear difficult under 
stress of that failure of felicity. Just so there are other talents 
that leave any fine appreciation mystified and gaping, and the 
active play of which may yet be observed to become on occasion 
a source of vast pecuniary profit. Nothing then is at moments 
more attaching, in the light of "comparative" science, than the 
study of just where and when, just how and why recognition 
denies itself to the appeal at all artfully, and responds largely to 
the appeal coarsely enough, commingled. The critical spirit 
with leisure indeed to spare may well, in its restlessness, 
seek to fix a bit exactly the point at which a beautiful talent, 
as I have called it, ceases, when imperilled by an empty pocket, 
to be a "worldly" advantage. The case in which impunity, for 
the malheureux ridden by that questionable boon, insists on 
breaking down would seem thus to become susceptible of 



much fine measurement. I don't know, I confess, that it 
proveably is; but the critical spirit at all afraid of so slight 
a misadventure as a waste of curiosity is of course deplor- 
ably false to its nature. The difficulty here, in truth, is that, 
from the moment a straight dependence on the broad-backed 
public is a part of the issue, the explicative quantity to be 
sought is precisely the mood of that monster which, con- 
sistently and consummately unable to give the smallest account 
of itself, naturally renders no grain of help to enquiry. Such 
a study as that of Ray Limbert's so prolonged, so> intensified, 
but so vain continuance in hope (hope of successfully grow- 
ing in his temperate garden some specimen of the rank ex- 
otic whose leaves are rustling cheques) is in essence a "story 
about the public," only wearing a little the reduced face by 
reason of the too huge scale, for direct portrayal, of the mon- 
strous countenance itself. Herein resides, as I have hinted, the 
anxious and easy interest of almost any sincere man of let- 
ters in the mere vicinage, even if that be all, of such strained 
situations as Ray Limbert's. They speak of the public, such 
situations, to whomever it may concern. They at all events had 
from far back insidiously beset the imagination of the author 
of "The Next Time," who can scarce remember the day when 
he wasn't all sympathetically, all tenderly occupied with some 
presumed literary watcher and quite of a sublime constitution 
for that postponed redress. Therefore in however developed 
a state the image in question was. at last to hover before him, 
some form of it had at least never been far to seek. 

I to this extent recover the acute impression that may have 
given birth to "The Figure in the Carpet," that no truce, in 
English-speaking air, had ever seemed to me really struck, or 
even approximately strikeable, with our so marked collective 
mistrust of anything like close or analytic appreciation appre- 
ciation, to be appreciation, implying of course some such rudi- 
mentary zeal; and this though that fine process be the Beautiful 
Gate itself of enjoyment. To have become consistently aware 



of this odd numbness of the geneial sensibility, which seemed 
ever to condemn it, in presence of a work of art, to a view 
scarce of half the intentions embodied, and moreover but to 
the scantest measure of these, was to have been directed from 
an early day to some of the possible implications of the matter, 
and so to have been led on by seductive steps, albeit perhaps by 
devious ways, to such a congruous and, as I would fain call it, 
fascinating case as that of Hugh Vereker and his undiscov- 
ered, not to say undiscoverable, secret. That strikes rne, when all 
is said, as an ample indication of the starting-point of this par- 
ticular portrayal. There may be links missing between the 
chronic consciousness I have glanced at that of Hugh Vere- 
ker 's own analytic projector, speaking through the mouth of 
the anonymous scribe and the poor man's attributive depen- 
dence, for the sense of being understood and enjoyed, on some 
responsive reach of critical perception that he is destined never 
to waylay with success; but even so they scarce signify, and 
I may not here attempt to catch them. This too in spite of the 
amusement almost always yielded by such recoveries and remi- 
niscences, or to be gathered from the manipulation of any 
string of evolutionary pearls. What I most remember of my 
proper process is the lively impulse, at the root of it, to rein- 
state analytic appreciation, by some ironic or fantastic stroke, 
so far as possible, in its virtually forfeited rights and dignities. 
Importunate to this end had I long found the charming idea 
of some artist whose most characteristic intention, or clus- 
ter of intentions, should have taken all vainly for granted 
the public, or at the worst the not unthinkable private, ex- 
ercise of penetration. I couldn't, I confess, be indifferent to 
those rare and beautiful, or at all events odd and attaching, 
elements that might be imagined to grow in the shade of so 
much spent intensity and so much baffled calculation. The 
mere quality and play of an ironic consciousness in the de- 
signer left wholly alone, amid a chattering unperceiving world, 
with the thing he has most wanted to do, with the design 



more or less realised some effectual glimpse of that might 
by itself, for instance, reward one's experiment. I came to 
Hugh Vereker, in fine, by this travelled road of a generalisa- 
tion; the habit of having noted for many years how strangely 
and helplessly, among us all, what we call criticism its curi- 
osity never emerging from the limp state is apt to stand off 
from the intended sense of things, from such finely-attested 
matters, on the artist's part, as a spirit and a form, a bias and a 
logic, of his own. From my definite preliminary it was no far cry 
to the conception of an intent worker who should find himself 
to the very end in presence but of the limp curiosity. Vereker's 
drama indeed or I should perhaps rather say that of the aspir- 
ing young analyst whose report we read and to whom, I rue- 
fully grant, I have ventured to impute a developed wit 
is that at a given moment the limpness begins vaguely to throb 
and heave, to become conscious of a comparative tension. As 
an effect of this mild convulsion acuteness, at several points, 
struggles to enter the field, and the question that accordingly 
comes up, the issue of the affair, can be but whether the very 
secret of perception hasn't been lost. That is the situation, and 
"The Figure in the Carpet" exhibits a small group of well- 
meaning persons engaged in a test. The reader is, on the evi- 
dence, left to conclude. 

The subject of "The Coxon Fund," published in "The 
Yellow Book" in 1894, had long been with me, but was, 
beyond doubt, to have found its interest clinched by my per- 
usal, shortly before the above date, of Mr. J. Dyke Campbell's 
admirable monograph on S. T. Coleridge. The wondrous fig- 
ure of that genius had long haunted me, and circumstances into 
which I need n't here enter had within a few years contributed 
much to making it vivid. Yet it's none the less true that the 
Frank Saltram of "The Coxon Fund" pretends to be of his 
great suggester no more than a dim reflexion and above all a 
free rearrangement. More interesting still than the man for 
the dramatist at any rate is the S. T. Coleridge type; so what 



I was to do was merely to recognise the type, to borrow it, to 
re-embody and freshly place it; an ideal under the law o which 
I could but cultivate a free hand. I proceeded to do so; I recon- 
structed the scene and the figures I had my own idea, which 
required, to express itself, a new set of relations though, when 
all this is said, it had assuredly taken the recorded, transmitted 
person, the image embalmed in literary history, to fertilise my 
fancy. What I should, for that matter, like most to go into here, 
space serving, is the so interesting question for the most part, 
it strikes me, too confusedly treated of the story-teller's "real 
person" or actual contemporary transplanted and exhibited. 
But this pursuit would take us far, such radical revision do the 
common laxities of the case, as generally handled, seem to call 
for. No such process is effectively possible, we must hold, as 
the imputed act of transplanting; an act essentially not me- 
chanical, but thinkable rather so far as thinkable at all in 
chemical, almost in mystical terms. We can surely account for 
nothing in the novelist's work that has n't passed through the 
crucible of his imagination, has n't, in that perpetually simmer- 
ing cauldron his intellectual pot-au-jeu, been reduced to savoury 
fusion. We here figure the morsel, of course, not as boiled to 
nothing, but as exposed, in return for the taste it gives out, to 
a new and richer saturation. In this state it is in due course 
picked out and served, and a meagre esteem will await, a poor 
importance attend it, if it does n't speak most of its late genial 
medium, the good, the wonderful company it has, as I hint, 
aesthetically kept. It has entered, in fine, into new relations, 
it emerges for new ones. Its final savour has been consituted, 
but its prime identity destroyed which is what was to be dem- 
onstrated. Thus it has become a different and, thanks to a rare 
alchemy, a better thing. Therefore let us have here as little 
as possible about its "being" Mr. This or Mrs. That. If it ad- 
justs itself with the least truth to its new life it can't possibly 
be either. If it gracelessly refers itself to either, if it persists as 
the impression not artistically dealt with, it shames the honour 



offered it and can only be spoken o as having ceased to be a 
thing of fact and yet not become a thing of truth. I am 
tempted to add that this recommemorative strain might easily 
woo me to another light step or two roundabout "The Coxon 
Fund." For I find myself look at it most interestedly to-day, 
after all, in the light of a significance quite other than that just 
noted. A marked example of the possible scope, at once, and 
the possible neatness of the nouvdle, it takes its place for me in 
a series of which the main merit and sign is the effort to do the 
complicated thing with a strong brevity and lucidity to ar- 
rive, on behalf of the multiplicity, at a certain science of con- 
trol. Infinitely attractive though I risk here again doubtless 
an effect of reiteration the question of how to exert this con- 
trol in accepted conditions and how yet to sacrifice no real 
value; problem ever dearest to any economic soul desirous to 
keep renewing, and with a frugal splendour, its ideal of econ- 
omy. Sacred altogether to memory, in short, such labours and 
such lights. Thus "The Coxon Fund" is such a complicated 
thing that if it still seems to carry itself by which I mean if 
its clearness still rules here, or still serves some pursued ques- 
tion of how the trick was played would probably not be thank- 



WHAT I had lately and most particularly to say of "The 
Coxon Fund" is no less true of "The Middle Years/' first 
published in "Scribner's Magazine" (1893) that recollection 
mainly and most promptly associates with it the number of 
times I had to do it over to make sure of it. To get it right was 
to squeeze my subject into the five or six thousand words I 
had been invited to make it consist of it consists, in fact, 
should the curious care to know, of some 5550 and I scarce 
perhaps recall another case, with the exception I shall presently 
name, in which my struggle to keep compression rich, if not, 
better still, to keep accretions compressed, betrayed for me such 
community with the anxious effort of some warden of the 
insane engaged at a critical moment in making fast a victim's 
straitjacket. The form of "The Middle Years" is not that 
of the nouvelle, but that of the concise anecdote; whereas 
the subject treated would perhaps seem one comparatively 
demanding "developments" if indeed, amid these mysteries, 
distinctions were so absolute. (There is of course neither 
close nor fixed measure of the reach of a development, which 
in some connexions seems almost superfluous and then in others 
to represent the whole sense of the matter; and we should 



doubtless speak more thoroughly by book had we some secret 
for exactly tracing deflexions and returns.) However this 
may be, it was as an anecdote, an anecdote only, that I was 
determined my little situation here should figure; to which end 
my effort was of course to follow it as much as possible from 
its outer edge in, rather than from its centre outward. That 
fond formula, I had alas already discovered, may set as many 
traps in the garden as its opposite may set in the wood; so that 
after boilings and reboilings of the contents of my small 
cauldron, after added pounds of salutary sugar, as numerous 
as those prescribed in the choicest recipe for the thickest jam, 
I well remember finding the whole process and act (which, to 
the exclusion of everything else, dragged itself out for a month) 
one of the most expensive of its sort in which I had ever en- 

But I recall, by good luck, no less vividly how much finer 
a sweetness than any mere spooned-out saccharine dwelt in 
the fascination of the questions involved. Treating a theme 
that "gave" much in a form that, at the best, would give little, 
might indeed represent a peck of troubles; yet who, none the 
less, beforehand, was to pronounce with authority such and 
such an idea anecdotic and such and such another develop- 
mental? One had, for the vanity of a priori wisdom here, only 
to be so constituted that to see any form of beauty, for a par- 
ticular application, proscribed or even questioned, was forth- 
with to covet that form more than any other and to desire the 
benefit of it exactly there. One had only to be reminded that 
for the effect of quick roundness the small smooth situation, 
though as intense as one will, is prudently indicated, and that 
for a fine complicated entangled air nothing will serve that 
doesn't naturally swell and bristle one had only, I say, to be 
so warned off or warned on, to see forthwith no beauty for the 
simple thing that should n't, and even to perversity, enrich it, 
and none for the other, the comparatively intricate, that 
shouldn't press it out as a mosaic. After which fashion the 



careful craftsman would have prepared himself the special in- 
viting treat of scarce being able to say, at his highest infatua- 
tion, before any series, which might be the light thing weighted 
and which the dense thing clarified. The very attempt so to 
discriminate leaves him in fact at moments even a little 
ashamed; whereby let him shirk here frankly certain of the 
issues presented by the remainder of our company there 
being, independently of these mystic matters, other remarks 
to make. Blankness overtakes me, I confess, in connexion 
with the brief but concentrated "Greville Fane" that emerges, 
how concentrated I tried to make it which must have ap- 
peared in a London weekly journal at the beginning of the 
"nineties"; but as to which I further retain only a dim warm 
pleasantness as of old Kensington summer hours. I re-read, 
ever so kindly, to the promotion of a mild aftertaste that of a 
certain feverish pressure, in a cool north room resorted to in 
heavy London Augusts, with stray, rare echoes of the town, 
beyond near roofs and chimneys, making harmless detonations, 
and with the perception, over my page, as I felt poor Grevilk 
grow, that her scant record, to be anything at all, would have to 
be a minor miracle of foreshortening. For here is exactly an 
illustrative case: the subject, in this little composition, is "de- 
velopmental" enough, while the form has to make the anec- 
dotic concession; and yet who shall say that for the right 
effect of a small harmony the fusion has failed? We desire 
doubtless a more detailed notation of the behaviour of the 
son and daughter, and yet had I believed the right effect missed 
"Greville Fane" wouldn't have figured here. 

Nothing, by the same stroke, could well have been con- 
demned to struggle more for that harmony than "The Abase- 
ment of the Northmores" and "The Tree of Knowledge": 
the idea in these examples (1900) being developmental with 
a vengeance and the need of an apparent ease and a general 
congruity having to enforce none the less as on behalf of 
some victim of the income-tax who would minimise his 



"return" an almost heroic dissimulation of capital. These 
things, especially the former, are novels intensely compressed, 
and with that character in them yet keeping at bay, under 
stress of their failing else to be good short stories, any air of 
mutilation. They had had to be good short stories in order to 
earn, however precariously, their possible wage and "appear" 
so certain was it that there would be no appearance, and conse- 
quently no wage, for them as frank and brave nouvelles. They 
could but conceal the fact that they were "nouvelles"; they 
could but masquerade as little anecdotes. I include them here 
by reason of that successful, that achieved and consummate 
as it strikes me duplicity: which, however, I may add, was 
in the event to avail them little since they were to find no- 
where, the unfortunates, hospitality and the reward of their 
effort. It is to "The Tree of Knowledge" I referred just above, 
I may further mention, as the production that had cost me, 
for keeping it "down," even a greater number of full revolu- 
tions of the merciless screw than "The Middle Years." On 
behalf also of this member of the group, as well as for "The 
Author of Beltraffio," I recover exceptionally the sense of the 
grain of suggestion, the tiny air-blown particle. In presence of 
a small interesting example of a young artist long dead, and 
whom I had yet briefly seen and was to remember with kind- 
ness, a friend had made, thanks to a still greater personal 
knowledge of him and of his quasi-conspicuous father, like- 
wise an artist, one of those brief remarks that the dramatist 
feels as fertilising. "And then," the lady I quote had said 
In allusion to certain troubled first steps of the young man's 
career, to complications of consciousness that had made his 
early death perhaps less strange and less lamentable, even 
though superficially more tragic; "and then he had found his 
father out, artistically: having grown up in so happy a per- 
sonal relation with him only to feel, at last, quite awfully, that 
lie did n't and could n't believe in him." That fell on one's ear 
of course only to prompt the inward cry: "How can there pos- 



sibly not be all sorts of good things in it?" Just so for "The 
Author of Beltraffio" long before this and some time before 
the first appearance of the tale in "The English Illustrated 
Magazine" (1884): it had been said to me of an eminent 
author, these several years dead and on some of the embarrass- 
ments of whose life and character a common friend was enlarg- 
ing: "Add to them all, moreover, that his wife objects in- 
tensely to what he writes. She can't bear it (as you can for that 
matter rather easily conceive) and that naturally creates a ten- 
sion !" There had come the air-blown grain which, lodged in 
a handful of kindly earth, was to produce the story of Mark 

Elliptic, I allow, and much of a skipping of stages, so bare 
an account of such performances; yet with the constitutive 
process for each idea quite sufficiently noted by my having had, 
always, only to say to myself sharply enough: "Dramatise it, 
dramatise it!" That answered, in the connexion, always, all my 
questions that provided for all my "fun." The two tales I 
have named but represent therefore their respective grains of 
seed dramatically handled. In the case of "Broken Wings" 
(1900), however, I but see to-day the produced result I fail 
to disinter again the buried germ. Little matters it, no doubt, 
that I recall as operative here the brush of no winged word; 
for when had I been, as a fellow scribbler, closed to the general 
admonition of such adventures as poor Mrs. Harvey's, the ele- 
gant representative of literature at Mundham? to such predica- 
ments as Stuart Straith's, gallant victim of the same hospitality 
and with the same confirmed ache beneath his white waistcoat ? 
The appeal of mature purveyors obliged, in the very interest of 
their presumed, their marketable, freshness, to dissimulate 
the grim realities of shrunken "custom," the felt chill of a 
lower professional temperature any old note-book would 
show that laid away as a tragic "value" not much less tenderly 
than some small plucked flower of association left between 
the leaves for pressing. What had happened here, visibly, was 



that the value had had to wait long to become active. "Drama- 
tise, dramatise, dramatise!" had been just there more of an 
easy admonition than of a ready feat; the case for dramatisa- 
tion was somehow not whole. Under some forgotten touch, 
however, at its right hour, it was to round itself. What the 
single situation lacked the pair of situations would supply 
there was drama enough, with economy, from the moment sad 
companions, looking each other, with their identities of pluck 
and despair, a little hard in the face, should confess each to 
the other, relievingly, what they kept from every one else. With 
the right encounter and the right surprise, that is with the right 
persons, postulated, the relief, if in the right degree exquisite, 
might be the drama and the right persons, in fine, to make 
it exquisite, were Stuart Straith and Mrs. Harvey. There re- 
mains "The Great Good Place" (1900) to the spirit of which, 
however, it strikes me, any gloss or comment would be a 
tactless challenge. It embodies a calculated effect, and to plunge 
into it, I find, even for a beguiled glance a course I indeed 
recommend is to have left all else outside. There then my 
indications must wait. 

The origin of "Paste" is rather more expressible, since it 
was to consist but of the ingenious thought of transposing 
the terms of one of Guy de Maupassant's admirable confes. 
In "La Parure" a poor young woman, under "social" stress, 
the need of making an appearance on an important occasion, 
borrows from an old school friend, now much richer than 
herself, a pearl necklace which she has the appalling misfor- 
tune to lose by some mischance never afterwards cleared up. 
Her life and her pride, as well as her husband's with them, 
become subject, from the hour of the awful accident, to the 
redemption of their debt; which, effort by effort, sacrifice by 
sacrifice, franc by franc, with specious pretexts, excuses, a 
rage of desperate explanation of their failure to restore the 
missing object, they finally obliterate all to find that their 
whole consciousness and life have been convulsed and de- 


formed in vain, that the pearls were but highly artful "imita- 
tion" and that their passionate penance has ruined them for 
nothing. It seemed harmless sport simply to turn that situa- 
tion round to shift, in other words, the ground of the hor- 
rid mistake, making this a matter not of a false treasure sup- 
posed to be true and precious, but of a real treasure supposed 
to be false and hollow: though a new little "drama," a new 
setting for my pearls and as different as possible from the 
other had of course withal to be found. 

"Europe," which is of 1899, when it appeared in "Scribner's 
Magazine," conspicuously fails, on the other hand, to disown its 
parentage; so distinct has its "genesis" remained to me. I had 
preserved for long years an impression of an early time, a 
visit, in a sedate American city for there were such cities then 
to an ancient lady whose talk, whose allusions and relics and 
spoils and mementoes and credentials, so to call them, bore 
upon a triumphant sojourn in Europe, long years before, in the 
hey-day of the high scholarly reputation of her husband, a dim 
displaced superseded celebrity at the time of my own observa- 
tion. They had been "much made of," he and she, at various 
foreign centres of polite learning, and above all in the England 
of early Victorian days; and my hostess had lived ever since 
on the name and fame of it; a treasure of legend and anec- 
dote laid up against the comparatively lean half-century, or 
whatever, that was to follow. For myself even, after this, a 
good slice of such a period had elapsed; yet with my con- 
tinuing to believe that fond memory would still somehow be 
justified of this scrap too, along with so many others: the un- 
extinguished sense of the temperature of the January morning 
on which the little Sunday breakfast-party, at half-past nine 
across the snow, had met to the music of a chilly ghostly kindly 
tinkle; that of the roomful of cherished echoes and of framed 
and glazed, presented and autographed and thumb-marked 
mementoes the wealth of which was somehow explained! 
(this was part of the legend) by the ancient, the at last almos? 



prehistoric, glory of like matutinal hours, type and model of 
the emulous shrunken actual. 

The justification I awaited, however, only came much later, 
on my catching some tender mention o certain admirable 
ladies, sisters and spinsters under the maternal roof, for whom 
the century was ebbing without remedy brought to their emi- 
nent misfortune (such a ground of sympathy always in the 
"good old" American days when the touching case was still 
possible) of not having "been to Europe." Exceptionally pre- 
pared by culture for going, they yet couldn't leave their im- 
memorial mother, the headspring, precisely, of that grace in 
them, who on the occasion of each proposed start announced 
her approaching end only to postpone it again after the plan 
was dished and the flight relinquished. So the century ebbed, 
and so Europe altered for the worse and so perhaps even a 
little did the sisters who sat in bondage; only so didn't at all 
the immemorial, the inextinguishable, the eternal mother, 
Striking to the last degree, I thought, that obscure, or at least 
that muffled, tragedy, which had the further interest of giving 
me on the spot a setting for my own so long uninserted gem 
and of enabling me to bring out with maximum confidence my 
inveterate "Dramatise!" "Make this one with such projection 
as you are free to permit yourself of the brooding parent in the 
other case," I duly remarked, "and the whole thing falls to- 
gether; the paradise the good sisters are apparently never to 
attain becoming by this conversion just the social cake on 
which they have always been fed and that has so notoriously 
opened their appetite." Or something of that sort. I recognise 
that I so but express here the "plot" of my tale as it stands; 
except for so far as my formula, "something of that sort," was 
to make the case bristle with as many vivid values, with as 
thick and yet as clear a little complexity of interest, as possible. 
The merit of the thing is in the feat, once more, of the trans- 
fusion; the receptacle (of form) being so exiguous, the brevity 
imposed s^ great. I undertook the brevity, so often undertaken 



an a like scale before, and again arrived at it by the innumer- 
able repeated chemical reductions and condensations that tend 
to make of the very short story, as I risk again noting, one of 
the costliest, even if, like the hard, shining sonnet, one of the 
most indestructible, forms of composition in general use. I ac- 
cepted the rigour of its having, all sternly, in this case, to treat 
so many of its most appealing values as waste; and I now seek 
my comfort perforce in the mere exhibited result, the union of 
whatever fulness with whatever clearness. 



"THE ALTAR OF THE DEAD" forms part of a volume bearing the 
title of "Terminations," which appeared in 1895. Figuring last 
in that collection of short pieces, it here stands at the head of 
my list, not as prevailing over its companions by length, but as 
being ample enough and of an earlier date than several. I have 
to add that with this fact of its temporal order, and the fact that, 
as I remember, it had vainly been "hawked about," knocking, 
in the world of magazines, at half a dozen editorial doors im- 
penetrably closed to it, I shall have exhausted my fund of allu- 
sion to the influences attending its birth. 1 consult memory 
further to no effect; so that if I should seem to have lost every 
trace of "how I came to think" of such a motive, did n't I, by a 
longer reach of reflexion, help myself back to the state of not 
having had to think of it ? The idea embodied in this composi- 
tion must in other words never have been so absent from my 
view as to call for an organised search. It was "there" it had 
always, or from ever so far back, been there, not interfering 
with other conceits, yet at the same time not interfered with; 
and it naturally found expression at the first hour something 
more urgently undertaken happened not to stop the way. The 
way here, I recognise, would ever have been easy to stop, for 
the general patience a the inherent waiting faculty, of the prin- 



ciple of interest involved, was conscious of no strain, and above 
all of no loss, in amusedly biding its time. Other conceits might 
indeed come and go, born of light impressions and passing 
hours, for what sort of free intelligence would it be that, ad- 
dressed to the human scene, should propose to itself, all vul- 
garly, never to be waylaid or arrested, never effectively inspired, 
by some imaged appeal of the lost Dead? The subject of my 
story is obviously, and quite as usual, the exhibition of a case; 
the case being that of an accepted, a cultivated habit (the cul- 
tivation is really the point) of regularly taking thought for 
them. Frankly, I can but gather, the desire, at last of the acutest, 
to give an example and represent an instance of some such 
practised communion, was a foredoomed consequence of life, 
year after year, amid the densest and most materialised aggrega- 
tion of men upon earth, the society most wedded by all its con- 
ditions to the immediate and the finite. More exactly speaking, 
it was impossible for any critic or "creator" at all worth his 
wage not, as a matter of course, again and again to ask himself 
what may not become of individual sensibility, of the faculty 
and the fibre itself, when everything makes against the indulg- 
ence of it save as a conscious, and indeed highly emphasised, 
dead loss. 

The impression went back for its full intensity, no doubt, 
neither to a definite moment nor to a particular shock; but 
the author of the tale before us was long to cherish the mem- 
ory of a pair of illuminating incidents that, happily for him 
by which I mean happily for the generalisation he here 
makes placed themselves, at no great distance apart, so late 
in a sustained experience of London as to find him profit- 
ably prepared for them, and yet early enough to let confirm- 
atory matter gather in abundance round. Not to this day, 
in fine, has he forgotten the hard, handsome, gentlemanly 
face, as it was expressionally affected in a particular con- 
junction, of a personage occasionally met in other years at 
one of the friendliest, the most liberal of "entertaining* 


houses and then lost to sight till after a long interval. The 
end of all mortal things had, during this period, and in the 
fulness of time, overtaken our delightful hosts anc 1 the scene 
of their long hospitality, a scene of constant welcome to my 
personage, as I have called him (a police-magistrate then 
seated, by reason of his office, well in the eye of London, 
but as conspicious for his private urbanity as for his high 
magisterial and penal mask). He too has now passed away, 
but what could exactly better attest the power of prized sur- 
vival in personal signs than my even yet felt chiH as I saw 
the old penal glare rekindled in him by the form of my aid 
to his memory. "We used sometimes to meet, in the old 
days, at the dear So-and-So's, you may recall." "The So- 
and-So's?" said the awful gentleman, who appeared to rec- 
ognise the name, across the table, only to be shocked at the 
allusion. "Why, they're Dead, sir dead these many years." 
"Indeed they are, sir, alas," I could but reply with spirit; 
"and it's precisely why I like so to speak of them! II ne 
manquerait plus que cela, that because they're dead I 
should n't!" is what I came within an ace of adding; or rather 
might have come hadn't I felt my indecency too utterly put 
in its place. I was left with it in fact on my hands where 
however I was quite everlastingly, as you see, to cherish it. 
My anecdote is mild and its companion perhaps milder; but 
impressions come as they can and stay as they will, 

A distinguished old friend, a very eminent lady and highly 
marked character, though technically, as it were, a private 
person, unencompassed by literary luggage or other monu- 
mental matter, had dropped from the rank at a great age and, 
as I was to note after a sufficient interval, to my surprise, 
with a singularly uncommemorated and unchronicled effect: 
given, I mean, her social and historical value. One blushed, 
as the days passed, for the want of manners in it there 
being twenty reasons in the case why manners should have 
been remembered. A friend of the interesting woman, there- 


upon, seeing his opportunity, asked leave o an acquaintance 
of his own, the conductor o a "high class" periodical, to 
intervene on behalf of her memory in the pages under the 
latter's control. The amiable editor so far yielded to a first 
good impulse as to welcome the proposal; but the proposer 
was disconcerted to receive on the morrow a colder retracta- 
tion. "I really don't see why I should publish an article 
about Mrs. X because and because only, so far as I can 
make out she's dead." Again I felt the inhibition, as the 
psychologists say, that I had felt in the other case; the vanity, 
in the conditions, of any yearning plea that this was the most 
beautiful of reasons. Clearly the conditions were against its 
being for an effective moment felt as such; and the article 
in question never appeared nor, to the best of my knowl- 
edge, anything else of the sort; which fact was to take its 
place among other grim values. These pointed, as they all too 
largely accumulated, to the general black truth that London 
was a terrible place to die in; doubtless not so much more- 
over by conscious cruelty or perversity as under the awful 
doom of general dishumanisation. It takes space to feel, it 
takes time to know, and great organisms as well as small have 
to pause, more or less, to possess themselves and to be aware. 
Monstrous masses are, by this truth, so impervious to vibra- 
tion that the sharpest forces of feeling, locally applied, no 
more penetrate than a pin or a paper-cutter penetrates an 
elephant's hide. Thus the very tradition of sensibility would 
perish if left only to their care. It has here and there to be 
rescued, to be saved by independent, intelligent zeal; which 
type of effort however, to avail, has to fly in the face of the 

These are easily, one is obliged to add, too many for it; 
nothing being more visible for instance than that the life of 
inordinately numerous companies is hostile to friendship and 
intimacy unless indeed it be the impropriety of such names 
applied to the actual terms of intercourse. The sense of the 



state of the dead is but part of the sense of the state of the 
living; and, congruously with that, life is cheated to almost 
the same degree of the finest homage (precisely this our pos- 
sible friendships and intimacies) that we fain would render 
it. We clutch indeed at some shadow of these things, we stay 
our yearning with snatches and stop-gaps; but our struggle 
yields to the other arrayed things that defeat the cultivation, 
in such an air, of the nner flowers creatures of cultiva- 
tion as the finer flowers essentially are. We perforce fall 
back, for the application of that process, on the coarser 
which form together the rank and showy bloom of "success/* 
of multiplied contact and multiplied motion; the bloom of a 
myriad many-coloured "relations" amid which the precious 
plant that is rare at the best becomes rare indeed. "The 
Altar of the Dead" then commemorates a case of what I have 
called the individual independent effort to keep it none the 
less tended and watered, to cultivate it, as I say, with an 
exasperated piety. I am not however here reconstituting my 
more or less vivid fable, but simply glancing at the natural 
growth of its prime idea, that of an invoked, a restorative 
reaction against certain general brutalities. Brutal, more and 
more, to wondering eyes, the great fact that the poor dead, 
all about one, were nowhere so dead as there; where to be 
caught in any rueful glance at them was to be branded at 
once as "morbid." "Mourir, a Londres, c'est etre bien mort!" 
I have not forgotten the ironic emphasis of a distinguished 
foreign friend, for some years officially resident in England, 
as we happened once to watch together a funeral-train, on its 
way to Kensal Green or wherever, bound merrily by. That 
truth, to any man of memories, was too repeatedly and intol- 
erably driven home, and the situation of my depicted George 
Stransom is that of the poor gentleman who simply at last 
could n't "stand" it. 

To desire, amid these collocations, to place, so far as pos- 
sible, like with like, was to invite "The Beast in the Jungle 5 * 



to stand here next in order. As to the accidental determinant 
of which composition, once more of comparatively recent 
date and destined, like its predecessor, first to see the light 
in a volume of miscellanies ("The Better Sort/' 1903) I 
remount the stream of time, all enquiringly, but to come 
back empty-handed. The subject of this elaborated fantasy 
which, I must add, I hold a successful thing only as its mo- 
tive may seem to the reader to stand out sharp can't quite 
have belonged to the immemorial company of such solicita- 
tions; though in spite of this I meet it, in ten lines of an old 
note-book, but as a recorded conceit and an accomplished 
fact. Another poor sensitive gentleman, fit indeed to mate 
with Stransom of "The Altar" my attested predilection for 
poor sensitive gentlemen almost embarrasses me as I march! 
was to have been, after a strange fashion and from the thresh- 
old of his career, condemned to keep counting with the un- 
reasoned prevision of some extraordinary fate; the conviction, 
lodged in his brain, part and parcel of his imagination from 
far back, that experience would be marked for him, and 
whether for good or for ill, by some rare distinction, some 
incalculable violence or unprecedented stroke. So I seemed 
to see him start in life under the so mixed star of the ex- 
treme of apprehension and the extreme of confidence; all to 
the logical, the quite inevitable effect of the complication 
aforesaid: his having to wait and wait for the right recogni- 
tion; none of the mere usual and normal human adventures, 
whether delights or disconcertments, appearing to conform 
to the great type of his fortune. So it is that he's depicted- 
No gathering appearance, no descried or interpreted promise 
or portent, affects his superstitious soul either as a damna- 
tion deep enough (if damnation be in question) for his ap- 
pointed quality of consciousness, or as a translation into bliss 
sublime enough (on that hypothesis) to fill, in vulgar parlance, 
the bill. Therefore as each item of experience comes, with 
its possibilities, into view, he can but dismiss it under this 



sterilising habit of the failure to find it good enough and 
thence to appropriate it. 

His one desire remains of course to meet his fate, or at 
least to divine it, to see it as intelligible, to learn it, in a word; 
but none of its harbingers, pretended or supposed, speak 
his ear in the true voice; they wait their moment at his door 
only to pass on unheeded, and the years ebb while he holds 
his breath and stays his hand and from the dread not less 
of imputed pride than of imputed pusillanimity stifles his 
distinguished secret. He perforce lets everything go leav- 
ing all the while his general presumption disguised and his 
general abstention unexplained; since he's ridden by the idea 
of what things may lead to, since they mostly always lead to 
human communities, wider or intenser, of experience, and 
since, above all, in his uncertainty, he mustn't compromise 
others* Like the blinded seeker in the old-fashioned game he 
'turns/ 5 on occasion, as with the sense of the hidden thing 
near only to deviate again however into the chill; the chill 
that indeed settles on him as the striking of his hour is de- 
ferred. His career thus resolves itself into a great negative ad- 
venture, my report of which presents, for its centre, the fine 
case that has caused him most tormentedly to "burn," and then 
most unprofitably to stray. He is afraid to recognise what he 
incidentally misses, since what his high belief amounts to is not 
that he shall have felt and vibrated less than any one else, but 
that he shall have felt and vibrated more; which no acknowl- 
edgement of the minor loss must conflict with. Such a course 
of existence naturally involves a climax the final flash of 
the light under which he reads his lifelong riddle and sees 
iiis conviction proved. He has indeed been marked and in- 
deed suffered his fortune which is precisely to have been 
the man in the world to whom nothing whatever was to 
happen. My picture leaves him overwhelmed at last he 
has understood; though in thus disengaging my treated theme 
for the reader's benefit I seem to acknowledge that this more 



detached witness may not successfully have done so. I cer- 
tainly grant that any felt merit in the thing must all depend 
on the clearness and charm with which the subject just noted 
expresses itself. 

If "The Birthplace" deals with another poor gentleman 
of interest as being yet again too fine for his rough fate 
here at least I can claim to have gone by book, here once 
more I lay my hand, for my warrant, on the clue of actual- 
ity. It was one of the cases in which I was to say at the 
first brush of the hint: "How can there possibly not be 
innumerable things in it?" "It" was the mentioned adven- 
ture of a good intelligent man rather recently appointed to 
the care of a great place of pilgrimage, a shrine sacred to the 
piety and curiosity of the whole English-speaking race, and 
haunted by other persons as well; who, coming to his office 
with infinite zest, had after a while desperately thrown it 
up as a climax to his struggle, some time prolonged, with 
"the awful nonsense he found himself expected and paid, and 
thence quite obliged, to talk." It was in these simple terms his 
predicament was named to me not that I would have had a 
word more, not indeed that I had n't at once to turn my back 
for very joy of the suppressed details: so unrnistakeably, on 
the spot, was a splendid case all there, so complete, in fine, as it 
stood, was the appeal to fond fancy; an appeal the more direct,. 
I may add, by reason, as happened, of an acquaintance, lately 
much confirmed, on my own part, with the particular temple 
of our poor gentleman's priesthood. It struck me, at any rate, 
that here, if ever, was the perfect theme of a nouvelleznA 
to some such composition I addressed myself with a confidence 
unchilled by the certainty that it would nowhere, at the best 
(a prevision not falsified) find "acceptance." For the rest I 
must but leave "The Birthplace" to plead its own cause; only 
adding that here afresh and in the highest degree were the 
conditions reproduced for that mystic, that "chemical" change 
wrought in the impression of life by its dedication to an 



Aesthetic use, that I lately spoke of in connexion with "The 
Coxon Fund." Beautiful on all this ground exactly, to the 
projector's mind, the process by which the small cluster of 
actualities latent in the fact reported to him was to be recon- 
stituted and, so far as they might need, altered; the felt fer- 
mentation, ever interesting, but flagrantly so in the example 
before us, that enables the sense originally communicated to 
make fresh and possibly quite different terms for the new 
employment there awaiting it. It has been liberated (to re- 
peat, I believe, my figure) after the fashion of some sound 
young draught-horse who may, in the great meadow, have to 
be re-captured and re-broken for the saddle. 

I proceed almost eagerly, in any case, to "The Private 
Life" and at the cost of reaching for a moment over "The 
Jolly Corner": I find myself so fondly return to ground 
on which the history even of small experiments may be more 
or less written. This mild documentation fairly thickens 
for me, I confess, the air of the first-mentioned of these tales; 
the scraps of records flit through that medium, to memory, as 
with the incalculable brush of wings of the imprisoned bat 
at eventide. This piece of ingenuity rests for me on such a 
handful of acute impressions as I may not here tell over at 
once; so that, to be brief, I select two of the sharpest. Neither 
of these was, in old London days, I make out, to be resisted 
even under its single pressure; so that the hour struck with a 
vengeance for "Dramatise it, dramatise it!" (dramatise, that 
is, the combination) from the first glimpse of a good way to 
work together two cases that happened to have been given 
me. They were those as distinct as possible save for belong' 
ing alike to the "world," the London world of a time when 
Discrimination still a little lifted its head of a highly distin- 
guished man, constantly to be encountered, whose fortune 
and whose peculiarity it was to bear out personally as little as 
possible (at least to my wondering sense) the high denote- 
ments, the rich implications and rare associations, of the genius 



to which he owed his position and his renown. One may go, 
naturally, in such a connexion, but by one's own applied meas- 
ure; and I have never ceased to ask myself, in this particular 
loud, sound, normal, hearty presence, all so assertive and so 
whole, all bristling with prompt responses and expected opin- 
ions and usual views, radiating all a broad daylight equality 
of emphasis and impartiality of address (for most relations) 
I never ceased, I say, to ask myself what lodgement, on such 
premises, the rich proud genius one adored could ever have 
contrived, what domestic commerce the subtlety that was its 
prime ornament and the world's wonder have enjoyed, under 
what shelter the obscurity that was its luckless drawback and 
the world's despair have flourished. The whole aspect and 
allure of the fresh sane man, illustrious and undistinguished- 
no "sensitive poor gentleman" he! was mystifying; they made 
the question of who then had written the immortal things such 
a puzzle. 

So at least one could but take the casethough one's need 
for relief depended, no doubt, on what one (so to speak) 
suffered. The writer of these lines, at any rate, suffered so 
much I mean of course but by the unanswered question- 
that light had at last to break under pressure of the whimsical 
theory of two distinct and alternate presences, the assertion 
of either of which on any occasion directly involved the entire 
extinction of the other. This explained to the imagination 
the mystery: our delightful inconceivable celebrity was double, 
constructed in two quite distinct and "water-tight" compart- 
mentsone of these figured by the gentleman who sat at a 
table all alone, silent and unseen, and wrote admirably deep 
and brave and intricate things; while the gentleman who regu- 
larly came forth to sit at a quite different table and substan- 
tially and promiscuously and multitudinously dine stood for its 
companion. They had nothing to do, the so dissimilar twins, 
with each other; the diner could exist but by the cessation of 
the writer, whose emergence, on his side, depended on his 



and our! ignoring the diner. Thus it was amusing to think 
of the real great man as a presence known, in the late London 
days, all and only to himself unseen of other human eye and 
converted into his perfectly positive, but quite secondary, alter 
ego by any approach to a social contact. To the same tune was 
the social personage known all and only to society, was he con- 
ceivable but as "cut dead," on the return home and the 
threshold of the closed study, by the waiting spirit who* would 
flash at that signal into form and possession. Once I had so 
seen the case I could n't see it otherwise; and so to see it more- 
over was inevitably to feel in it a situation and a motive. The 
ever-importunate murmur, "Dramatise it, dramatise it!" 
haunted, as I say, one's perception; yet without giving the idea 
much support till, by the happiest turn, the whole possibility 
was made to glow. 

For didn't there immensely flourish in those very days and 
exactly in that society the apparition the most qualified to 
balance with the odd character I have referred to and to sup- 
ply to "drama," if "drama" there was to- be, the precious ele- 
ment of contrast and antithesis? that most accomplished 
of artists and most dazzling of men of the world whose effect 
on the mind repeatedly invited to appraise him was to beget 
in it an image of representation and figuration so exclusive 
of any possible inner self that, so far from there being here a 
question of an alter ego, a double personality, there seemed 
scarce a question of a real and single one, scarce foothold 
or margin for any private and domestic ego at all. Immense 
in this case too, for any analytic witness, the solicitation of 
wonder which struggled all the while, not less amusingly than 
in the other example, toward the explanatory secret; a clear 
view of the perpetual, essential performer, consummate, in- 
fallible, impeccable, and with his high shining elegance, his 
intensity of presence, on these lines, involving to the imagina- 
tion an absolutely blank reverse or starved residuum, no other 
power of presence whatever. One said it under one's breath ? 


one really yearned to know: was he, such an embodiment of 
skill and taste and tone and composition, of every public gloss 
and grace, thinkable even as occasionally single? since to be 
truly single is to be able, under stress, to be separate, to be 
solus, to know at need the interlunar swoon of some inde- 
pendent consciousness. Yes, had our dazzling friend any such 
alternative, could he so unattestedly exist, and was the with- 
drawn, the sequestered, the unobserved and unhonoured condi- 
tion so much as imputable to him? Was n't his potentiality of 
existence public, in fine, to the last squeeze of the golden 
orange, and when he passed from our admiring sight into the 
chamber of mystery what, the next minute, was on the other 
side of the door ? It was irresistible to believe at last that there 
was at such junctures inveterately nothing; and the more so, 
once I had begun to dramatise, as this supplied the most natu- 
ral opposition in the world to my fond companion-view the 
other side of the door only cognisant of the true Robert Brown- 
ing. One's harmless formula for the poetic employment of this 
pair of conceits could n't go much further than "Play them 
against each other" the ingenuity of which small game 
'The Private Life" reflects as it can. 

I fear I can defend such doings but under the plea of my 
amusement in them an amusement I of course hoped others 
might succeed in sharing. But so comes in exactly the prin- 
ciple under the wide strong wing of which several such mat- 
ters are here harvested; things of a type that might move me, 
had I space, to a pleading eloquence. Such compositions as 
"The Jolly Corner," printed here not for the first time, but 
printed elsewhere only as I write and after my quite ceas- 
ing to expect it; "The Friends of the Friends," to which I 
here change the colourless title of "The Way It Came" (1896), 
"Owen Wingrave" (1893), "Sir Edmund Orme" (1891), "The 
Real Right Thing" (1900), would obviously never have ex- 
isted but for that love of "a story as a story" which had from 
far back beset and beguiled their author. To this passion, the 



vital flame at the heart of any sincere attempt to lay a scene and 
launch a drama, he flatters himself he has never been false; 
and he will indeed have done his duty but little by it if he has 
failed to let it, whether robustly or quite insidiously, fire his 
fancy and rule his scheme. He has consistently felt it (the 
appeal to wonder and terror and curiosity and pity and to the 
delight of fine recognitions, as well as to the joy, perhaps 
sharper still, of the mystified state) the very source of wise 
counsel and the very law of charming effect. He has rev- 
elled in the creation of alarm and suspense and surprise and 
relief, in all the arts that practise, with a scruple for nothing 
but any lapse of application, on the credulous soul of the 
candid or, immeasurably better, on the seasoned spirit of the 
cunning, reader. He has built, rejoicingly, on that blest fac- 
ulty of wonder just named, in the latent eagerness of which 
the novelist so finds, throughout, his best warrant that he can 
but pin his faith and attach his car to it, rest in fine his 
monstrous weight and his queer case on it, as on a strange 
passion planted in the heart of man for his benefit, a mys- 
terious provision made for him in the scheme of nature. He 
has seen this particular sensibility, the need and the love of 
wondering and the quick response to any pretext for it, as 
the beginning and the end of his affair thanks to the in- 
numerable ways in which that chord may vibrate. His prime 
care has been to master those most congruous with his own 
faculty, to make it vibrate as finely as possible or in other 
words to the production of the interest appealing most (by 
its kind) to himself. This last is of course the particular 
clear light by which the genius of representation ever best 
proceeds with its beauty of adjustment to any strain of atten- 
tion whatever. Essentially, meanwhile, excited wonder must 
have a subject, must face in a direction, must be, increasingly, 
about something. Here comes in then the artist's bias and his 
range determined, these things, by his own fond inclination. 
About what, good man, does he himself most wonder? for 



upon that, whatever it may be, he will naturally most abound. 
Under that star will he gather in what he shall most seek to 
represent; so that if you follow thus his range of representa- 
tion you will know how, you will see where, again, good man, 
he for himself most aptly vibrates. 

All of which makes a desired point for the little group 
of compositions here placed together; the point that, since 
the question has ever been for me but of wondering and, with 
all achievable adroitness, of causing to wonder, so the whole 
fairy-tale side of life has used, for its tug at my sensibility, a 
cord all its own. When we want to wonder there's no such 
good ground for it as the wonderful premising indeed al- 
ways, by an induction as prompt, that this element can but 
be at best, to fit its different cases, a thing of appreciation. 
What is wonderful in one set of conditions may quite fail of 
its spell in another set; and, for that matter, the peril of the 
unmeasured strange, in fiction, being the silly, just as its 
strength, when it saves itself, is the charming, the wind of 
interest blows where it lists, the surrender of attention persists 
where it can. The ideal, obviously, on these lines, is the 
straight fairy-tale, the case that has purged in the crucible all 
its betises while keeping all its grace. It may seem odd, in a 
search for the amusing, to try to steer wide of the silly by 
hugging close the "supernatural"; but one man's amusement 
is at the best (we have surely long had to recognise) another's 
desolation; and I am prepared with the confession that the 
"ghost-story," as we for convenience call it, has ever been 
for me the most possible form of the fairy-tale. It enjoys, to 
my eyes, this honour by being so much the neatest neat with 
that neatness without which representation, and therewith 
beauty, drops. One's working of the spell is of course decently 
and effectively but by the represented thing, and the grace of 
the more or less closely represented state is the measure of any 
success; a truth by the general smug neglect of which it's dif- 
ficult not to be struck. To begin to wonder, over a case, I 



must begin to believe to begin to give out (that is to attend) 
I must begin to take in, and to enjoy that profit I must begin 
to see and hear and feel. This would n't seem, I allow, the gen- 
eral requirement as appears from the fact that so many per- 
sons profess delight in the picture of marvels and prodigies 
which by any, even the easiest, critical measure is no picture; 
in the recital of wonderful horrific or beatific things that are 
neither represented nor, so far as one makes out, seen as repre- 
sentable: a weakness not invalidating, round about us, the 
most resounding appeals to curiosity. The main condition of 
interest that of some appreciable rendering of sought effects 
is absent from them; so that when, as often happens, one is 
asked how one "likes" such and such a "story" one can but 
point responsively to the lack of material for a judgement. 

The apprehension at work, we thus see, would be of cer- 
tain projected conditions, and its first need therefore is that 
these appearances be constituted in some other and more col- 
ourable fashion than by the author's answering for them on 
his more or less gentlemanly honour. This isn't enough; give 
me your elements, treat me your subject, one has to say 
I must wait till then to tell you how I like them. I might 
"rave" about them all were they given and treated; but there 
is no basis of opinion in such matters without a basis of 
vision, and no ground for that, in turn, without some com- 
municated closeness of truth. There are portentous situations, 
there are prodigies and marvels and miracles as to which this 
communication, whether by necessity or by chance, works com- 
paratively straight works, by our measure, to some convincing 
consequence; there are others as to which the report, the pic- 
ture, the plea, answers no tithe of the questions we would put. 
Those questions may perhaps then, by the very nature of the 
case, be unanswerable though often again, no doubt, the felt 
vice is but in the quality of the provision made for them: 
on any showing, my own instinct, even in the service of great 
adventures, is all for the best terms of things; all for ground 



on which touches and tricks may be multiplied, the greatest 
number of questions answered, the greatest appearance of truth 
conveyed. With the preference I have noted for the "neat" 
evocation the image, of any sort, with fewest attendant vague- 
nesses and cheapnesses, fewest loose ends dangling and few- 
est features missing, the image kept in fine the most suscep- 
tible of intensity- with this predilection, I say, the safest 
arena for the play of moving accidents and mighty mutations 
and strange encounters, or whatever odd matters, is the field, 
as I may call it, rather of their second than of their first ex- 
hibition. By which, to avoid obscurity, I mean nothing more 
cryptic than I feel myself show them best by showing almost 
exclusively the way they are felt, by recognising as their 
main interest some impression strongly made by them and 
intensely received. We but too probably break down, I have 
ever reasoned, when we attempt the prodigy, the appeal to 
mystification, in itself; with its "objective" side too empha- 
sised the report (it is ten to one) will practically run thin. 
We want it clear, goodness knows, but we also want it thick, 
and we get the thickness in the human consciousness that 
entertains and records, that amplifies and interprets it. That 
indeed, when the question is (to repeat) of the "supernatu- 
ral," constitutes the only thickness we do get; here prodigies, 
when they come straight, come with an effect imperilled; 
they keep all their character, on the other hand, by looming 
through some other history the indispensable history of 
somebody's normal relation to something. It's in such con- 
nexions as these that they most interest, for what we are then 
mainly concerned with is their imputed and borrowed dig- 
nity. Intrinsic values they have none as we feel for instance 
in such a matter as the would-be portentous climax of Edgar 
Poe's "Arthur Gordon Pym," where the indispensable his- 
tory is absent, where the phenomena evoked, the moving 
accidents, coming straight, as I say, are immediate and flat, and 
the attempt is all at the horrific in itself. The result is that s 



to my sense, the climax fails fails because it stops short, and 
stops short for want of connexions. There are no connexions; 
not only, I mean, in the sense of further statement, but of our 
own further relation to the elements, which hang in the void; 
whereby we see the effect lost, the imaginative effort wasted. 

I dare say, to conclude, that whenever, in quest, as I have 
noted, of the amusing, I have invoked the horrific, I have 
invoked it, in such air as that of "The Turn of the Screw," 
that of "The Jolly Corner," that of "The Friends of the 
Friends," that of "Sir Edmund Orme," that of "The Real 
Right Thing," in earnest aversion to waste and from the sense 
that in art economy is always beauty. The apparitions of Peter 
Quint and Miss Jessel, in the first of the tales just named, the 
elusive presence nightly "stalked" through the New York 
house by the poor gentleman in the second, are matters as to 
which in themselves, really, the critical challenge (essentially 
nothing ever but the spirit of fine attention) may take a hun- 
dred forms and a hundred felt or possibly proved infirmities 
is too great a number. Our friends* respective minds about 
them, on the other hand, are a different matter challengeable, 
and repeatedly, if you like, but never challengeable without 
some consequent further stiffening of the whole texture. 
Which proposition involves, I think, a moral. The moving 
accident, the rare conjunction, whatever it be, doesn't make 
the story in the sense that the story is our excitement, our 
amusement, our thrill and our suspense; the human emotion 
and the human attestation, the clustering human conditions 
we expect presented, only make it. The extraordinary is most 
extraordinary in that it happens to you and me, and it 's of 
value (of value for others) but so far as visibly brought home 
to us. At any rate, odd though it may sound to pretend that 
one feels on safer ground in tracing such an adventure as 
that of the hero of "The Jolly Corner" than in pursuing a 
bright career among pirates or detectives, I allow that com- 
position to pass as the measure or limit, on my own part, of 



any achievable comfort in the "adventure-story"; and this not 
because I may "render" well, what my poor gentleman at- 
tempted and suffered in the New York house better than I 
may render detectives or pirates or other splendid desperadoes, 
though even here too there would be something to say; but 
because the spirit engaged with the forces of violence interests 
me most when I can think of it as engaged most deeply, most 
finely and most "subtly" (precious term!). For then it is that, 
as with the longest and firmest prongs of consciousness, I 
grasp and hold the throbbing subject; there it is above all that 
I find the steady light of the picture. 

After which attempted demonstration I drop with scant 
grace perhaps to the admission here of a general vagueness 
on the article of my different little origins, I have spoken of 
these in three or four connexions, but ask myself to no pur- 
pose, I fear, what put such a matter as "Owen Wingrave" or 
as "The Friends of the Friends," such a fantasy as "Sir 
Edmund Orme," into my head. The habitual teller of tales 
finds these things in old note-books which however but shifts 
the burden a step; since how, and under what inspiration, 
did they first wake up in these rude cradles? One's notes, as 
all writers remember, sometimes explicitly mention, sometimes 
indirectly reveal, and sometimes wholly dissimulate, such clues 
and such obligations. The search for these last indeed, through 
faded or pencilled pages, is perhaps one of the sweetest of our 
more pensive pleasures. Then we chance on some idea we have 
afterwards treated; then, greeting it with tenderness, we won- 
der at the first form of a motive that was to lead us so far and 
to show, no doubt, to eyes not our own, for so other; then we 
heave the deep sigh of relief over all that is never, thank good- 
ness, to be done again. Would we have embarked on that stream 
had we known ? and what might n't we have made of this one 
hadn't we known! How, in a proportion of cases, could we 
have dreamed "there might be something" ? and why, in 
another proportion, did n't we try what there might be, siace 



there are sorts of trials (ah indeed more than one sort!) for 
which the day will soon have passed? Most of all, of a cer- 
tainty, is brought back, before these promiscuities, the old 
burden of the much life and the little art, and of the portentous 
dose of the one it takes to make any show of the other. It 
is n't however that one "minds" not recovering lost hints; the 
special pride of any tinted flower of fable, however small, is to 
be able to opine with the celebrated Topsy that it can only 
have "growed." Does n't the fabulist himself indeed recall even 
as one of his best joys the particular pang (both quickening 
and, in a manner, profaning possession) of parting with some 
conceit of which he can give no account but that his sense of 
beauty or truth or whatever has been for ever so long 
saturated with it? Not, I hasten to add, that measurements of 
time may n't here be agreeably fallacious, and that the "ever so 
long" of saturation shan't often have consisted but of ten min- 
utes of perception. It comes back to me of "Owen Wingrave," 
for example, simply that one summer afternoon many years 
ago, on a penny chair and under a great tree in Kensington 
Gardens, I must at the end of a few such visionary moments 
have been able to equip him even with details not involved 
or not mentioned in the story. Would that adequate intensity 
all have sprung from the fact that while I sat there in the 
immense mild summer rustle and the ever so softened London 
hum a young man should have taken his place on another 
chair within my limit of contemplation, a tall quiet slim 
studious young man, of admirable type, and have settled to 
a book with immediate gravity? Did the young man then, 
on the spot, just become Owen Wingrave, establishing by 
the mere magic of type the situation, creating at a stroke all 
the implications and filling out all the picture? That he 
would have been capable of it is all I can say unless it be, 
otherwise put, that I should have been capable of letting him; 
though there hovers the happy alternative that Owen Win- 
e 3 nebulous and fluid, may only, at the touch, have found 


himself in this gentleman; found, that is, a figure and a 
habit, a form, a face, a fate, the interesting aspect presented 
and the dreadful doom recorded; together with the required 
and multiplied connexions, not least that presence of some 
self-conscious dangerous girl of lockets and amulets offered 
by the full-blown idea to my very first glance. These ques- 
tions are as answerless as they are, luckily, the reverse of 
pressing since my poor point is only that at the beginning 
of my session in the penny chair the seedless fable had n't a 
claim to make or an excuse to give, and that, the very next 
thing, the pennyworth still partly unconsumed, it was fairly 
bristling with pretexts. "Dramatise it, dramatise it!" would 
seem to have rung with sudden intensity in my ears. But 
dramatise what? The young man in the chair ? Him perhaps 
indeed however disproportionately to his mere inoffensive 
stillness; though no imaginative response can be disproportion- 
ate, after all, I think, to any right, any really penetrating, ap- 
peal. Only, where and whence and why and how sneaked in, 
during so few seconds, so much penetration, so very much 
lightness? However, these mysteries are really irrecoverable; 
besides being doubtless of interest, in general, at the best, but 
to the infatuated author. 

Moved to say that of "Sir Edmund Orme" I remember ab- 
solutely nothing, I yet pull myself up ruefully to retrace the 
presumption that this morsel must first have appeared, with 
a large picture, in a weekly newspaper and, as then struck 
me, in the very smallest of all possible print at sight of 
which I felt sure that, in spite of the picture (a thing, in its 
way, to be thankful for) no one would ever read it. I was 
never to hear in fact that any one had done so and I there- 
fore surround it here with every advantage and give it without 
compunction a new chance. For as I meditate I do a little 
live it over, do a little remember in connexion wkh it the 
felt challenge of some experiment or two in one of the finer 
shades, the finest (theft was the point) of the gruesome. The 



gruesome gross and obvious might be charmless enough; but 
why shouldn't one, with ingenuity, almost infinitely refine 
upon it? as one was prone at any time to refine almost on 
anything? The study of certain of the situations that keep, 
as we say, the heart in the mouth might renew itself under this 
star; and in the recital in question, as in "The Friends of the 
Friends," "The Jolly Corner" and "The Real Right Thing," the 
pursuit of such verily leads us into rarefied air. Two sources 
of effect must have seemed to me happy for "Sir Edmund 
Orme"; one of these the bright thought of a state of uncon- 
scious obsession or, in romantic parlance, hauntedness, on the 
part of a given person; the consciousness of it on the part of 
some other, in anguish lest a wrong turn or forced betrayal shall 
determine a break in the blest ignorance, becoming thus the 
subject of portrayal, with plenty of suspense for the occur- 
rence or non-occurrence of the feared mischance. Not to be 
liable herself to a dark visitation, but to see such a danger 
play about her child as incessantly as forked lightning may 
play unheeded about the blind, this is the penalty suffered by 
the mother, in "Sir Edmund Orme," for some hardness or 
baseness of her own youth. There I must doubtless have found 
my escape from the obvious; there I avoided a low directness 
and achieved one of those redoubled twists or sportive by 
which I don't at all mean wanton gambols dear to the 
fastidious, the creative fancy and that make for the higher 
interest. The higher interest and this is the second of the 
two flowers of evidence that I pluck from the faded cluster 
must further have dwelt, to my appraisement, in my plac- 
ing my scene at Brighton, the old, the mid-Victorian, the 
Thackeray an Brighton; where the twinkling sea and the 
breezy air, the great friendly, fluttered, animated, many-col- 
oured "front," would emphasise the note I wanted; that of 
the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the 
normal and easy. 
This was to be again, after years, the idea entertained for 



"The Jolly Corner/' about the composition of which there 
would be more to say than my space allows; almost more 
in fact than categorical clearness might see its way to. A very 
limited thing being on this occasion in question, I was moved 
to adopt as my motive an analysis of some one of the con- 
ceivably rarest and intensest grounds for an "unnatural" 
anxiety, a malaise so incongruous and discordant, in the given 
prosaic prosperous conditions, as almost to be compromising. 
Spencer Brydon's adventure however is one of those finished 
fantasies that, achieving success or not, speak best even to- the 
critical sense for themselves which I leave it to do, while I 
apply the remark as well to "The Friends of the Friends" (and 
all the more that this last piece allows probably for no other 

I have placed "Julia Bride," for material reasons, at the 
end of this Volume, quite out of her congruous company, 
though not very much out of her temporal order; and mainly 
with this drawback alone that any play of criticism she may 
seem formed to provoke rather misses its link with the re- 
flexions I have here been making. That link is with others 
to come, and I must leave it to suggest itself on the occasion 
of these others; when I shall be inevitably saying, for in- 
stance, that if there are voluminous., gross and obvious ways 
of seeking that effect of the distinctively rich presentation for 
which it has been my possibly rather thankless fate to strive, 
so doubtless the application of patches and the multiplication 
of parts make up a system with a train of votaries; but that 
the achieved iridescence from within works, I feel sure, more 
kinds of magic; and our interest, our decency and our dignity 
can of course only be to- work as many kinds as. possible. 
Such value as may dwell in "Julia Bride," for example, 
seems to me, on re-perusal, to consist to a high degree in the 
strength of the flushing through on the part of the subject- 
matter, and in the mantle of iridescence naturally and log- 
ically so produced. Julia is "foreshortened," I admit, to within 



an inch of her life; but I judge her life still saved and yet 
at the same time the equal desideratum, its depicted full 
fusion with other lives that remain undepicted, not lost 
The other lives, the rest of the quantity of life, press in, 
squeeze forward, to the best of their ability; but, restricted 
as the whole thing is to implications and involutions only, 
they prevail at best by indirectness; and the bid for amuse- 
ment, the effect presumably sought, is by making us con- 
ceive and respond to them, making us feel, taste, smell and 
enjoy them, without our really knowing why or how. Full- 
fed statement here, to repeat my expression the imaged 
resume of as many of the vivifying elements as may be co- 
herently packed into an image at once is the predominant 
artifice; thanks to which we catch by the very small reflec- 
tor, which is of absolutely minimum size for its task, a quite 
"unlikely" amount, I surmise, of the movement of life. But, 
again and again, it would take me long to retail the refine- 
ments of ingenuity I felt poor re-invoked Julia all anxiously, 
all intelligently invite me to place, for this belated, for this 
positively final appearance, at her disposal. "Here we are 
again!" she seemed, with a chalked grimace, to call out to me, 
even as the clown at the circus launches the familiar greeting; 
and it was quite as if, while she understood all I asked of her, 
I confessed to her the oddity of my predicament. This was but 
a way, no doubt, of confessing it to myself -except indeed that 
she might be able to bear it. Her plea was well, anything she 
would; but mine, in return, was that I really didn't take her 
for particularly important in herself, and would in fact have 
had no heart for her without the note, attaching to her as not 
in the least to poor little dim and archaic Daisy Miller, say; 
the note, so to call it, of multitudinous reference. I had had, 
for any confidence, to make it out to myself that my little frisk- 
ing haunter, under private stress, of the New York public 
scene, was related with a certain intensity to the world about 
her; so that her case might lose itself promptly enough in a 



complexus of larger and stranger caseseven in the very air, 
by what seemed to promise, of the largest possibilities of 
comedy. What if she were the silver key, tiny in itself, that 
would unlock a treasure? the treasure of a whole view of 
manners and morals, a whole range of American social 

To put that question was to see one's subject swell at its 
mere touch; but to do this, by the same stroke, was to ask 
one's self, alas, how such a majestic mass could be made to 
turn round in a nouvelle. For, all tainted with the up-town 
debility though it still might be and this too, after all, com- 
parative did n't it yet strain the minor key, to re-employ my 
expression, almost to breaking? How had the prime idea come 
to me, in the first place, but as possibly and perhaps even 
minutely illustrating, in respect of consequences and remoter 
bearings, that freedom repeatedly to contract for the fond pre- 
liminaries of marriage which has been immemorially cherished 
by the American female young? The freedoms of Ameri- 
can life are, together with some of its queer restrictions and 
timidities, the suggestive matter for painter, poet or satirist; 
and who should say that one of the greatest of all such birth- 
rights, the large juvenile licence as to getting "engaged," dis- 
engaged and re-engaged, had received half the attention the 
charmed dramatist or moralist would appear consistently to 
owe it ? Presumably of the greatest its bearing on the social tone 
at large, on the manners, habits and ideals of communities 
clinging to it of generations wedded, that is, to the young 
speculative exchange of intimate vows as to the palladium 
of their liberties. What had struck me nevertheless was that, in 
common with a hundred other native traditions and practices, 
it had suffered from the attitude of poets and statisticians 
banded alike to display it as quite devoid of attendant signs 
or appreciable effects. From far back a more perverse student, 
doubtless, of the human scene in general had ventured to sus- 
pect in it some at least of the properties of presentable truth; 



so hard it appeared to believe that the number of a young lady's 
accepted lovers would n't in some degree determine the mixture 
of the elements in the young lady's consciousness and have 
much to "say/' in one way and another, to the young lady's 
general case. What it might have to say (of most interest to 
poet and moralist) was certainly meanwhile no matter for a 
-priori judgement it might have to say but the most charm- 
ing, the most thrilling things in the world; this, however, was 
exactly the field for dramatic analysis, no such fine quantities 
being ever determinable till they have with due intelligence 
been "gone into." "Dramatise, dramatise!" one had, in fine, 
before the so signal appearance, said to one's self: then, and 
not sooner, would one see. 

By the same token and the same process would one arrive 
at a similar profit on the score of that other almost equally 
prized social provision which has indeed received more criti- 
cal attention the unrestricted freedom of re-marriage in the 
lifetime of the parties, the unhampered ease of rupture and 
repudiation for each. On this ground, as I say, the fond inter- 
preter of life has had, wherever we observe him, the acute 
appeal apparently enough in his ears; and it was to reach 
me in the present connexion but as a source of sound re- 
enforcement to my possibly too exiguous other example. 
"Superadd some view of the so enjoyed and so typical free- 
doms of the mother to the element, however presented, of the 
daughter's inimitable career of licence; work in, as who should 
say, a tablespoonful of the due display of responsible conscous- 
ness, of roused and reflective taste, of delicacy spreading a 
tentative wing; season and stir according to judgement and 
then set the whole to simmer, to stew, or whatever, serving hot 
and with extreme neatness"; such, briefly stated, had been 
my careful formula or recipe by which I of course had to 
abide in spite of suspecting the process to promise, from an 
early stage, a much stronger broth, smoking in a much bigger 
bowl, than I had engaged to prepare. The fumes exhaled by 



the mixture were the gage, somehow, of twenty more in- 
gredients than I had consciously put in; and this means in 
short that, even with the actual liquid drained off, I make 
out a residuum of admirable rich "stock," which in com- 
mon deference to professional and technical thirf t must again 
certainly serve. Such are both the penalties and the profits of 
that obsession by the sense of an ampler comedy in human 
things latent and a little lost, but all responsive to the 
interested squeeze, to the roused passion of pursuit than 
even quite expert and anxious preliminaries of artistic rela- 
tion to any theme may always be trusted to give the measure 
of. So what does this truth amount to, after all, but a sort 
of consecration of what I have called, for "Julia Bride," my 
predicament? the consciousness, in that connexion, but of 
finding myself, after so many years astride the silver-shod, 
sober-paced, short-stepping, but oh so hugely nosing, so 
tenderly and yearningly and ruefully stuffing, grey mule of the 
"few thousand words," ridiculously back where I had started. 
I clutch at the claim in question indeed, since I feel that with- 
out it the shadow I may have cast mightn't bear compari- 
son even with that of limping Don Quixote assisted through 
his castle-gate and showing but thankless bruises for laurels 
might in fact resign itself rather to recalling Moses Prim- 
rose welcomed home from the Fair. 




IT was in Rome during the autumn of 1877; a friend then 
living there but settled now in a South less weighted with 
appeals and memories happened to mention which she might 
perfectly not have done some simple and uninformed Amer- 
ican lady of the previous winter, whose young daughter, a 
child of nature and of freedom, accompanying her from hotel 
to hotel, had "picked up" by the wayside, with the best con- 
science in the world, a good-looking Roman, of vague iden- 
tity, astonished at his luck, yet (so far as might be, by the 
pair) all innocently, all serenely exhibited and introduced: this 
at least till the occurrence of some small social check, some 
interrupting incident, of no great gravity or dignity, and 
which I forget. I had never heard, save on this showing, of 
the amiable but not otherwise eminent ladies, who weren't 
in fact named, I think, and whose case had merely served to 
point a familiar moral; and it must have been just their 
want of salience that left a margin for the small pencil-mark 
inveterately signifying, in such connexions, "Dramatise, dram- 
atise!" The result of my recognising a few months later 
the sense of my pencil-mark was the short chronicle of "Daisy 
Miller," which I indited in London the following spring and 



then addressed, with no conditions attached, as I remember, 
to the editor of a magazine that had its seat of publication at 
Philadelphia and had lately appeared to appreciate my con- 
tributions. That gentleman however (an historian of some 
repute) promptly returned me my missive, and with an ab- 
sence of comment that struck me at the time as rather grim 
as, given the circumstances, requiring indeed some explana- 
tion : till a friend to whom 1 appealed for light, giving him the 
thing to read, declared it could only have passed with the Phil- 
adelphian critic for "an outrage on American girlhood." This 
was verily a light, and of bewildering intensity; though I 
was presently to read into the matter a further helpful in- 
ference. To the fault of being outrageous this little com- 
position added that of being essentially and pre-eminently a 
nouvelle; a signal example in fact of that type, foredoomed 
at the best, in more cases than not, to editorial disfavour. 
If accordingly I was afterwards to be cradled, almost bliss- 
fully, in the conception that "Daisy" at least, among my 
productions, might approach "success," such success for ex- 
ample, on her eventual appearance, as the state of being 
promptly pirated in Boston a sweet tribute I had n't yet re- 
ceived and was never again to know the irony of things 
yet claimed its rights, I couldn't but long continue to feel, 
in the circumstance that quite a special reprobation had waited 
on the first appearance in the world of the ultimately most 
prosperous child of my invention. So doubly discredited, at 
all events, this bantling met indulgence, with no great delay, 
in the eyes of my admirable friend the late Leslie Stephen and 
was published in two numbers of "The Cornhill Magazine" 


It qualified itself in that publication and afterwards as "a 
Study"; for reasons which I confess I fail to recapture un- 
less they may have taken account simply of a certain flatness 
in my poor little heroine's literal denomination. Flatness in- 
deed, one must have felt, was the very sum of her story; so 



that perhaps after all the attached epithet was meant but as a 
deprecation, addressed to the reader, of any great critical hope 
of stirring scenes. It provided for mere concentration, and on 
an object scant and superficially vulgar from which, however, 
a sufficiently brooding tenderness might eventually extract a 
shy incongruous charm. I suppress at all events here the ap- 
pended qualification in view of the simple truth, which ought 
from the first to have been apparent to me, that my little 
exhibition is made to no degree whatever in critical but, quite 
inordinately and extravagantly, in poetical terms. It comes back 
to me that I was at a certain hour long afterwards to have 
reflected, in this connexion, on the characteristic free play of 
the whirligig of time. It was in Italy again in Venice and in 
the prized society of an interesting friend, now dead, with 
whom I happened to wait, on the Grand Canal, at the animated 
water-steps of one of the hotels. The considerable little ter- 
race there was so disposed as to make a salient stage for 
certain demonstrations on the part of two young girls, chil- 
dren they, if ever, of nature and of freedom, whose use of 
those resources, in the general public eye, and under our own 
as we sat in the gondola, drew from the lips of a second 
companion, sociably afloat with us, the remark that there 
before us, with no sign absent, were a couple of attesting Daisy 
Millers. Then it was that, in my charming hostess's prompt 
protest, the whirligig, as I have called it, at once betrayed 
itself. "How can you liken those creatures to a figure of which 
the only fault is touchingly to have transmuted so sorry a 
type and to have, by a poetic artifice, not only led our judge- 
ment of it astray, but made any judgement quite impossible?" 
With which this gentle lady and admirable critic turned on the 
author himself. "You %now you quite falsified, by the turn 
you gave it, the thing you had begun with having in mind, 
the thing you had had, to satiety, the chance of 'observing': 
your pretty perversion of it, or your unprincipled mystification 
of our sense of it, does it really too much honour in spite of 


which, none the less, as anything charming or touching al- 
ways to that extent justifies itself, we after a fashion forgive 
and understand you. But why waste your romance? There 
are cases, too many, in which you Ve done it again; in which, 
provoked by a spirit of observation at first no doubt suffi- 
ciently sincere, and with the measured and felt truth fairly 
twitching your sleeve, you have yielded to your incurable 
prejudice in favour of grace to whatever it is in you that 
makes so inordinately for form and prettiness and pathos; 
not to say sometimes for misplaced drolling. Is it that you Ve 
after all too much imagination? Those awful young women 
capering at the hotel-door, they are the real little Daisy Millers 
that were; whereas yours in the tale is such a one, more's 
the pity, as- for pitch of the ingenuous, for quality of the 
artless couldn't possibly have been at all." My answer to 
all which bristled of course with more professions than I can 
or need report here; the chief of them inevitably to the effect 
that my supposedly typical little figure was of course pure 
poetry, and had never been anything else; since this is what 
helpful imagination, in however slight a dose, ever directly 
makes for. As for the original grossness of readers, I dare 
say I added, that was another matter but one which at any 
rate had then quite ceased to signify. 

A good deal of the same element has doubtless sneaked 
into "Pandora," which I also reprint here for congruity's 
sake, and even while the circumstances attending the birth 
of this anecdote, given to the light in a New York news- 
paper (1884), pretty well lose themselves for me in the mists 
of time. I do nevertheless connect "Pandora" with one of 
the scantest of memoranda, twenty words jotted down in 
New York during a few weeks spent there a year or two 
before. I had put a question to a friend about a young lady 
present at a certain pleasure-party, but present in rather per- 
ceptibly unsupported and unguaranteed fashion, as without 
other connexions, without more operative "backers," than a 



proposer possibly half-hearted and a slightly sceptical sec- 
onder; and had been answered to the effect that she was an 
interesting representative of a new social and local variety, the 
"self-made," or at least self-making, girl, whose sign was that 
given some measurably amusing appeal in her to more or less 
ironic curiosity or to a certain complacency of patronage- 
she was anywhere made welcome enough if she only came, 
like one of the dismembered charges of Little Bo-Peep, leaving 
her "tail" behind her. Docked of all natural appendages and 
having enjoyed, as was supposed, no natural advantages; with 
the "line drawn," that is, at her father and her mother, her 
sisters and her brothers, at everything that was hers, and 
with the presumption crushing as against these adjuncts, she 
was yet held free to> prove her case and sail her boat her- 
self; even quite quaintly or quite touchingly free, as might 
be working out thus on her own lines her social salvation. 
This was but five-and-twenty years ago; yet what to-day 
most strikes me in the connexion, and quite with surprise, 
is that at a period so recent there should have been novelty 
for me in a situation so little formed by more contem- 
porary lights to startle or waylay. The evolution of varieties 
moves fast; the Pandora Days can no longer, I fear, pass 
for quaint or fresh or for exclusively native to any one tract 
of Anglo-Saxon soil. Little Bo-Peep's charges may, as man- 
ners have developed, leave their tails behind them for the 
season, but quite knowing what they have done with them and 
where they shall find them again as is proved for the most 
part by the promptest disavowal of any apparent ground for 
ruefulness. To "dramatise" the hint thus gathered was of 
course, rudimentarily, to see the self-made girl apply her very 
first independent measure to the renovation of her house, 
founding its fortunes, introducing her parents, placing her 
brothers, marrying her sisters (this care on her own behalf 
being a high note of superiority quite secondary), in fine 
floating the heavy mass on the flood she had learned to breast 



Something of that sort must have proposed itself to me at that 
time as the latent "drama'' of the case; very little of which, how- 
ever, I am obliged to recognise, was to struggle to the sur- 
face. What is more to the point is the moral I at present 
find myself drawing from the fact that, then turning over 
my American impressions, those proceeding from a brief 
but profusely peopled stay in New York, I should have 
fished up that none so very precious particle as one of the 
pearls of the collection. Such a circumstance comes back, 
for me, to that fact of my insuperably restricted experience 
and my various missing American clues or rather at least 
to my felt lack of the most important of them all on which 
the current of these remarks has already led me to dilate. 
There had been indubitably and multitudinously, for me, in 
my native city, the world "down-town" since how otherwise 
should the sense of "going" down, the sense of hovering at 
the narrow gates and skirting the so violently overscored outer 
face of the monstrous labyrinth that stretches from Canal 
Street to the Battery, have taken on, to me, the intensity of a 
worrying, a tormenting impression? Yet it was an impression 
any attempt at the active cultivation of which, one had been 
almost violently admonished, could but find one in the last 
degree unprepared and uneducated. It was essentially New 
York, and New York was, for force and accent, nothing 
else worth speaking of; but without the special lights it 
remained impenetrable and inconceivable; so that one but 
mooned about superficially, circumferentially, taking in, 
through the pores of whatever wistfulness, no good material 
at all. I had had to retire, accordingly, with my yearning 
presumptions all unverified presumptions, I mean, as to the 
privilege of the imaginative initiation, as to the hived stuff of 
drama, at the service there of the literary adventurer really 
informed enough and bold enough; and with my one drop 
of comfort the observation already made that at least I 
descried, for my own early humiliation and exposure, no sem- 



blance of such a competitor slipping in at any door or perched, 
for raking the scene, on any coign of vantage. That invidious 
attestation of my own appointed and incurable deafness to the 
major key I frankly surmise I could scarce have borne. For 
there it was; not only that the major key was "down-town" 
but that down-town was, all itself, the major key absolutely, 
exclusively; with the inevitable consequence that if the minor 
was "up-town," and (by a parity of reasoning) up-town the 
minor, so the field was meagre and the inspiration thin for 
any unfortunate practically banished from the true pasture. 
Such an unfortunate, even at the time I speak of, had still 
to confess to the memory of a not inconsiderably earlier sea- 
son when, seated for several months at the very moderate 
altitude of Twenty-Fifth Street, he felt himself day by day 
alone in that scale of the balance; alone, I mean, with the 
music-masters and French pastry-cooks, the ladies and children 
immensely present and immensely numerous these, but testi- 
fying with a collective voice to the extraordinary absence (save 
as pieced together through a thousand gaps and indirectnesses) 
of a serious male interest. One had heard and seen novels 
and plays appraised as lacking, detrimentally, a serious fe- 
male; but the higher walks in that community might at the 
period I speak of have formed a picture bright and animated, 
no doubt, but marked with the very opposite defect. 

Here it was accordingly that loomed into view more than 
ever the anomaly, in various ways dissimulated to a first im- 
pression, rendering one of the biggest and loudest of cities one 
of the very least of Capitals; together with the immediate re- 
minder, on the scene, that an adequate muster of Capital char- 
acteristics would have remedied half my complaint. To have 
lived in capitals, even in some of the smaller, was to be sure of 
that and to know why and all the more was this a conse- 
quence of having happened to live in some of the greater. 
Neither scale of the balance, in these, had ever struck one as 
so monstrously heaped-up at the expense of the other; there 



had been manners and customs enough, so to speak, there had 
been features and functions, elements, appearances, social 
material, enough to go round. The question was to have 
appeared, however, and the question was to remain, this 
interrogated mystery of what American town-life had left to 
entertain the observer withal when nineteen twentieths of it, 
or in other words the huge organised mystery of the consum- 
mately, the supremely applied money-passion, were inexor- 
ably closed to him. My own practical answer figures here 
perforce in the terms, and in them only, of such propositions 
as are constituted by the four or five longest tales comprised 
in this series. What it came to was that up-town would do 
for me simply what up-town could and seemed in a man- 
ner apologetically conscious that this mightn't be described 
as much. The kind of appeal to interest embodied in these 
portrayals and in several of their like companions was the 
measure of the whole minor exhibition, which affected me 
as virtually saying: "Yes I 'm either that that range and order 
of things, or I'm nothing at all; therefore make the most 
of me!" Whether "Daisy Miller," "Pandora," "The Pata- 
gonia," "Miss Gunton," "Julia Bride" and tutti quanti do in 
fact conform to any such admonition would be an issue by it- 
self and which must n't overcome my shyness; all the more that 
the point of interest is really but this that I was on the basis 
of the loved nouvdle form, with the best will in the world and 
the best conscience, almost helplessly cornered. To ride the 
nouvelle down-town, to prance and curvet and caracole with it 
there that would have been the true ecstasy. But a single 
"spill" such as I so easily might have had in Wall Street or 
wherever- would have forbidden me, for very shame, in the 
eyes of the expert and the knowing, ever to mount again; so 
that in short it was n't to be risked on any terms. 

There were meanwhile the alternatives of course that I 
might renounce the nouvelle, or else might abjure that "Amer- 
ican life" the characteristic towniness of which was lighted for 



me, even though so imperfectly, by New York and Boston 
by those centres only. Such extremities, however, I simply 
couldn't afford artistically, sentimentally, financially, or by 
any other sacrifice to face; and if the fact nevertheless re- 
mains that an adjustment, under both the heads in question, 
had eventually to take place, every inch of my doubtless meagre 
ground was yet first contested, every turn and twist of my scant 
material economically used. Add to this that if the other con- 
stituents of the volume, the intermediate ones, serve to specify 
what I was then thrown back on, I need n't perhaps eveji at the 
worst have found within my limits a thinness of interest to 
resent: seeing that still after years the common appeal re- 
mained sharp enough to flower again into such a composition 
as "Julia Bride" (which independently of its appearance here 
has seen the light but in "Harper's Magazine," 1908). A& I 
wind up with this companion-study to "Daisy Miller" the 
considerable assortment of my shorter tales I seem to see it 
symbolise my sense of my having waited with something of 
a subtle patience, my having still hoped as against hope that 
the so ebbing and obliging seasons would somehow strike 
for me some small flash of what I have called the major light 
would suffer, I mean, to glimmer out, through however odd 
a crevice or however vouchsafed a contact, just enough of a 
wandering air from the down-town penetralia as might em- 
bolden, as might inform, as might, straining a point, even 
conceivably inspire (always where the nouvette, and the 
nouvdle only, should be concerned) ; all to the advantage of 
my extension of view and my variation of theme. A whole 
passage of intellectual history, if the term be not too pompous, 
occupies in fact, to my present sense, the waiting, the so fondly 
speculative interval: in which I seem to see myself rather a high 
and dry, yet irrepressibly hopeful artistic Micawber, cocking an 
ostensibly confident hat and practising an almost passionate 
system of "bluff"; insisting, in fine, that something (out of 
the ]ust-named penetralia) would turn up if only the right 



imaginative hanging-about on the chance, if only the true 
intelligent attention, were piously persisted in. 

I forget exactly what Micawber, who had hung about so 
on the chance, I forget exactly what he, at the climax of his 
exquisite consciousness, found himself in fact reverting to; 
but I feel that my analogy loses nothing from the circum- 
stance that so recently as on the publication of "Fordham 
Castle" (1904), for which I refer my reader to Volume xvi, 
the miracle, after all, alas, had n't happened, the stray emitted 
gleam had n't fallen across my page, the particular supreme 
"something" those who live by their wits finally and most 
yearningly look for had n't, in fine, turned up. What better 
proof of this than that, with the call of the "four or five 
thousand words" of "Fordham Castle" for instance to meet, 
or even with the easier allowance of space for its successor 
to rise to, I was but to feel myself fumble again in the old 
limp pocket of the minor exhibition, was but to know myself 
reduced to finger once more, not a little ruefully, a chord 
perhaps now at last too warped and rusty for complicated mu- 
sic at short order? I trace myself, for that matter, in "Fordham 
Castle" positively "squirming" with the ingenuity of my effort 
to create for my scrap of an up-town subject such a scrap as 
I at the same time felt myself admonished to keep it down to! 
a certain larger connexion; I may also add that of the exceed- 
ingly close complexus of intentions represented by the packed 
density of those few pages it would take some ampler glance 
here to give an account. My point is that my pair of little up- 
town identities, the respectively typical objects of parental and 
conjugal interest, the more or less mitigated, more or less embel- 
lished or disfigured, intensified or modernised Daisy Millers, 
Pandora Days, Julia Brides, Miss Guntons or whatever, of the 
anxious pair, the ignored husband and relegated mother, brought 
together in the Swiss lakeside pension my point is that these 
irrepressible agents yet betrayed the conscious need of tricking- 
out their time-honoured case. To this we owe it that the elder 



couple bear the brunt of immediate appearance and are charged 
with the function of adorning at least the foreground of the 
general scene; they convey, by implication, the moral of the 
tale, at least its aesthetic one, if there be such a thing: they 
fairly hint, and from the very centre of the familiar field, at 
positive deprecation (should an imagined critic care not to 
neglect such a shade) of too unbroken an eternity of mere 
international young ladies. It '$ as if the international young 
ladies, felt by me as once more, as verily once too much, my 
appointed thematic doom, had inspired me with the fond 
thought of attacking them at an angle and from a quarter 
by which the peril and discredit of their rash inveteracy might 
be a bit conjured away. 

These in fact are the saving sanities of the dramatic poet's 
always rather mad undertaking the rigour of his artistic 
need to cultivate almost at any price variety of appearance 
and experiment, to dissimulate likenesses, samenesses, stale- 
nesses, by the infinite play of a form pretending to a life of 
its own. There are not so many quite distinct things in his 
field, I think, as there are sides by which the main masses 
may be approached; and he is after all but a nimble besieger 
or nocturnal sneaking adventurer who perpetually plans, 
watches, circles for penetrable places. I offer "Fordham Castle," 
positively for a rare little memento of that truth: once I had 
to be, for the light wind of it in my sails, "internationally" 
American, what amount of truth my subject mightn't aspire 
to was urgently enough indicated which condition straight- 
Way placed it in the time-honoured category; but the range of 
choice as to treatment, by which I mean as to my pressing 
tfie clear liquor of amusement and refreshment from the 
golden apple of composition, that blest freedom, with its infi- 
nite power of renewal, was still my resource, and I felt myself 
invoke it not in vain. There was always the difficulty I have 
in the course of these so numerous preliminary observations 
repeatedly referred to it, but the point is so interesting that it 



can scarce be made too often that the simplest truth about a 
human entity, a situation, a relation, an aspect of life, however 
small, on behalf of which the claim to charmed attention is 
made, strains ever, under one's hand, more intensely, most 
intensely, to justify that claim; strains ever, as it were, toward 
the uttermost end or aim of one's meaning or of its own nu- 
merous connexions; struggles at each step, and in defiance of 
one's raised admonitory finger, fully and completely to express 
itself. Any real art of representation is, I make out, a con- 
trolled and guarded acceptance, in fact a perfect economic 
mastery, of that conflict: the general sense of the expansive, 
the explosive principle in one's material thoroughly noted, 
adroitly allowed to flush and colour and animate the disputed 
value, but with its other appetites and treacheries, its char- 
acteristic space-hunger and space-cunning, kept down. The 
fair flower of this artful compromise is to my sense the secret 
of "foreshortening"- the particular economic device for which 
one must have a name and which has in its single blessedness 
and its determined pitch, I think, a higher price than twenty 
other clustered loosenesses; and just because full-fed statement, 
just because the picture of as many of the conditions as pos- 
sible made and kept proportionate, just because the surface 
iridescent, even in the short piece, by what is beneath it and 
what throbs and gleams through, are things all conducive to 
the only compactness that has a charm, to the only spareness 
that has a force, to the only simplicity that has a grace those, 
in each order, that produce the rich effect. 

Let me say, however, that such reflexions had never helped 
to close my eyes, at any moment, to all that had come and 
gone, over the rest of the field, in the fictive world of adventure 
more complacently so called the American world, I particu- 
larly mean, that might have put me so completely out of coun- 
tenance by having drawn its inspiration, that of thousands of 
celebrated works, neither from up-town nor from down-town 
nor from my lady's chamber, but from the vast wild garden of 


"unconventional 55 life in no matter what part of our country. 
I grant in fact that this demonstration of how consummately 
my own meagrely-conceived sources were to be dispensed with 
by the more initiated minds would but for a single circum- 
stance, grasped at in recovery of self-respect, have thrown me 
back in absolute dejection on the poverty of my own cate- 
gories. Why hadn't so quickened a vision of the great 
neglected native quarry at large more troubled my dreams, 
instead of leaving my imagination on the whole so resigned? 
Well, with many reasons I could count over, there was one 
that all exhaustively covered the ground and all completely 
answered the question: the reflexion, namely, that the com- 
mon sign of the productions "unconventionally" prompted (and 
this positively without exception) was nothing less than the 
birthmark of Dialect, general or special dialect with the 
literary rein loose on its agitated back and with its shambling 
power of traction, not to say, more analytically, of ^traction, 
trusted for all such a magic might be worth. Distinctly that 
was the odd case: the key to the whole of the treasure of ro- 
mance independently garnered was the riot of the vulgar 
tongue. One might state it more freely still and the truth 
would be as evident: the plural number, the vulgar tongues, 
each with its intensest note, but pointed the moral more 
luridly. Grand generalised continental riot or particular pedan- 
tic, particular discriminated and "sectional" and self-con- 
scious riot to feel the thick breath, to catch the ugly snarl, 
of all or of either, was to be reminded afresh of the only 
conditions that guard the grace, the only origins that save 
the honour, or even the life, of dialect: those precedent to the 
invasion, to the sophistication, of schools and unconscious of 
the smartness of echoes and the taint of slang. The thou- 
sands of celebrated productions raised their monument but to 
the bastard vernacular of communities disinherited of the felt 
difference between the speech of the soil and the speech of the 
newspaper, and capable thereby, accordingly, of taking slang 


for simplicity, the composite for the quaint and the vulgar for 
the natural. These were unutterable depths, and, as they 
yawned about one, what appreciable coherent sound did they 
seem most to give out? Well, to my ear surely, at the worst, 
none that determined even a tardy compunction. The monu- 
ment was there, if one would, but was one to regret one's own 
failure to have contributed a stone? Perish, and all ignobly, 
the thought! 

Each of the other pieces of which this volume is composed 
would have its small history; but they have above all in com- 
mon that they mark my escape from the predicament, as I 
have called it, just glanced at; my at least partial way out 
of the dilemma formed by the respective discouragements of 
down-town, of up-town and of the great dialectic tracts. Vari- 
ous up-town figures flit, I allow, across these pages; but they 
too, as it were, have for the time dodged the dilemma; I meet 
them, I exhibit them, in an air of different and, I think, more 
numerous alternatives. Such is the case with the young Amer- 
ican subject in "Flickerbridge" (1902) and with the old 
American subject, as my signally mature heroine may here 
be pronounced, in "The Beldonald Holbein" (1901). In these 
two cases the idea is but a stray spark of the old "interna- 
tional" flame; of course, however, it was quite internationally 
that I from far back sought my salvation. Let such matters 
as those I have named represent accordingly so many renewed, 
and perhaps at moments even rather desperate, clutches of that 
useful torch. We may put it in this way that the scale of 
variety had, by the facts of one's situation, been rather oddly 
predetermined with Europe so constantly in requisition as 
the more salient American stage or more effective repoussoir, 
and yet with any particular action on this great lighted and 
decorated scene depending for half its sense on one of my 
outland importations. Comparatively few those of my produc- 
tions in which I appear to have felt, and with confidence, that 
source of credit freely negligible; "The Princess Casamassima/* 



*The Tragic Muse," "The Spoils of Poynton," "The Other 
House/' "What Maisie Knew/' "The Sacred Fount/' practi- 
cally, among the more or less sustained things, exhausting the 
list in which moreover I have set down two compositions not 
included in the present series. Against these longer and shorter 
novels stand many of the other category; though when it 
comes to the array of mere brevities as in "The Marriages" 
(1891) and four of its companions here the balance is more 
evenly struck: a proof, doubtless, that confidence in what he 
may call the indirect initiation, in the comparatively hampered 
saturation, may even after long years often fail an earnest 
worker in these fields. Conclusive that, in turn, as to the 
innumerable parts of the huge machine, a thing of a myriad 
parts, about which the intending painter of even a few aspects 
of the life of a great old complex society must either be right 
or be ridiculous. He has to be, for authority and on all such 
ground authority is everything but continuously and confi- 
dently right; to which end, in many a case, if he happens to be 
but a civil alien, he had best be simply born again I mean 
born differently. 

Only then, as he 's quite liable to say to himself, what would 
perhaps become, under the dead collective weight of those 
knowledges that he may, as the case stands for him, often 
separately miss, what would become of the free intensity of the 
perceptions which serve him in their stead, in which he never 
hesitates to rejoice, and to which, in a hundred connexions, he 
just impudently trusts? The question is too beguiling, alas, 
now to be gone into; though the mere putting of it fairly 
describes the racked consciousness of the unfortunate who has 
incurred the dread heritage of easy comparisons. His wealth, 
in this possession, is supposed to be his freedom of choice, but 
there are too many days when he asks himself if the artist 
may n't easily know an excess of that freedom. Those of the 
smaller sort never use all the freedom they have which is the 
sign, exactly, by which we know them; but those of the greater 



have never had too much immediately to use which is the 
sovereign mark of their felicity. From which range of specu- 
lation let me narrow down none the less a little ruefully; 
since I confess to no great provision of "history" on behalf of 
"The Marriages" The embodied notion, for this matter, suffi- 
ciently tells its story; one has never to go far afield to speculate 
on the possible pangs of filial piety in face of the successor, in 
the given instance, to either lost parent, but perhaps more par- 
ticularly to the lost mother, often inflicted on it by the parent 
surviving. As in the classic case of Mrs. Glasse's receipt, it 's 
but a question of "first catching" the example of piety intense 
enough. Granted that, the drama is all thereall in the con- 
sciousness, the fond imagination, the possibly poisoned and 
inflamed judgement, of the suffering subject; where, exactly, 
"The Marriages" was to find it. 

As to the "The Real Thing" (1890) and "Brooksmith" 
(1891) my recollection is sharp; the subject of each of these 
tales was suggested to me by a briefly-reported case. To begin 
with the second-named of them, the appreciative daughter of 
a friend some time dead had mentioned to me a visit received 
by her from a servant of the late distinguished lady, a devoted 
maid whom I remembered well to have repeatedly seen at the 
latter's side and who had come to discharge herself so far as 
she might of a sorry burden. She had lived in her mistress's 
delightful society and in that of the many so interesting friends 
of the house; she had been formed by nature, as unluckily 
happened, to enjoy this privilege to the utmost, and the depri- 
vation of everything was now bitterness in her cup. She had 
had her choice, and had made her trial, of common situations 
or of a return to her own people, and had found these ordeals 
alike too cruel. She had in her years of service tasted of con- 
versation and been spoiled for life; she had, in recall of 
Stendhal's inveterate motto, caught a glimpse, all untimely, 
of "la beaute parfaite," and should never find again what she 
had lost so that nothing was left her but to languish to her 



end. There was a touched spring, of course, to make "Drama- 
tise, dramatise!" ring out; only my little derived drama* in 
the event, seemed to require, to be ample enough, a hero rather 
than a heroine. I desired for my poor lost spirit the measured 
maximum of the fatal experience: the thing became, in a word, 
to my imagination, the obscure tragedy of the "intelligent" 
butler present at rare table-talk, rather than that of the more 
effaced tirewoman; with which of course was involved a corre- 
sponding change from mistress to master. 

In like manner my much-loved friend George du Maurier 
had spoken to me of a call from a strange and striking couple 
desirous to propose themselves as artist's models for his weekly 
"social" illustrations to "Punch," and the acceptance of whose 
services would have entailed the dismissal of an undistin- 
guished but highly expert pair, also husband and wife, who 
had come to him from far back on the irregular day and 
whom, thanks to a happy, and to that extent lucrative, ap- 
pearance of "type" on the part of each, he had reproduced, to 
the best effect, in a thousand drawing-room attitudes and 
combinations. Exceedingly modest members of society they 
earned their bread by looking and, with the aid of supplied 
toggery, dressing, greater favourites of fortune to the life; 
or, otherwise expressed, by skilfully feigning a virtue not in 
the least native to them. Here meanwhile were their so 
handsome proposed, so anxious, so* almost haggard competi- 
tors, originally, by every sign, of the best condition and estate, 
but overtaken by reverses even while conforming impeccably 
to the standard of superficial "smartness" and pleading with 
well-bred ease and the right light tone, not to say with fever- 
ish gaiety, that (as in the interest of art itself) they at least 
should n't have to "make believe." The question thus thrown 
up by the two friendly critics of the rather lurid little passage 
was of whether their not having to make believe would in 
fact serve them, and above all serve their interpreter as well 
as the borrowed graces of the comparatively sordid profession" 



als who had had, for dear life, to know how (which was to 
have learnt how) to do something. The question, I recall, 
struck me as exquisite, and out of a momentary fond consider- 
ation of it "The Real Thing" sprang at a bound. 

"Flickerbridge" indeed I verily give up: so thoroughly does 
this highly-finished little anecdote cover its tracks; looking 
at me, over the few years and out of its bland neatness, with 
the fine inscrutability, in fact the positive coquetry, of the 
refusal to answer free-and-easy questions, the mere cold smile 
for their impertinence, characteristic of any complete artistic 
thing. "Dramatise, dramatise!" there had of course been 
that preliminary, there could n't not have been; but how rep- 
resent here clearly enough the small succession of steps by 
which such a case as the admonition is applied to in my 
picture of Frank Granger's visit to Miss Wenham came to 
issue from the whole thick-looming cloud of the noted ap- 
pearances, the dark and dismal consequences, involved more 
and more to-day in our celebration, our commemoration, our 
unguardedly-uttered appreciation, of any charming impres- 
sion? Living as we do under permanent visitation of the 
deadly epidemic of publicity, any rash word, any light thought 
that chances to escape us, may instantly, by that accident, find 
itself propagated and perverted, multiplied and diffused, after 
a fashion poisonous, practically, and speedily fatal, to its 
subject that is to our idea, our sentiment, our figured inter- 
est, our too foolishly blabbed secret. Fine old leisure, in George 
Eliot's phrase, was long ago extinct, but rarity, precious rarity, 
its twin-sister, lingered on a while only to begin, in like man- 
ner, to perish by inches to learn, in other words, that to be 
so much as breathed about is to be handed over to the big 
drum and the brazen blare, with all the effects of the vulgar- 
ised, trampled, desecrated state after the cyclone of sound and 
fury has spent itself. To have observed that, in turn, is to 
learn to dread reverberation, mere mechanical ventilation, 
more than the Black Death; which lesson the hero of my little 



apologue is represented as, all by himself and with anguish at 
his heart, spelling out the rudiments of. Of course it was a far 
cry, over intervals of thought, artistically speaking, from the 
dire truth I here glance at to my small projected example, look- 
ing so all unconscious of any such portentous burden of sense; 
but through that wilderness I shall not attempt to guide my 
reader. Let the accomplishment of the march figure for him, 
on the author's part, the arduous sport, in such a waste, of 

Intervals of thought and a desolation of missing links strike 
me, not less, as marking the approach to any simple expres- 
sion of my "original hint" for "The Story In It." What I 
definitely recall of the history of this tolerably recent produc- 
tion is that, even after I had exerted a ferocious and far from 
fruitless ingenuity to keep it from becoming a nouvelle 
for it is in fact one of the briefest of my compositions 
it still haunted, a graceless beggar, for a couple of years, tne 
cold avenues of publicity; till finally an old acquaintance, about 
to "start a magazine," begged it in turn of me and published it 
(1903) at no cost to himself but the cost of his confidence, in 
that first number which was in the event, if I mistake not, to 
prove only one of a pair. I like perhaps "morbidly" to think 
that the Story in it may have been more than the magazine 
could carry. There at any rate for the "story," that is for the 
pure pearl of my idea I had to take, in the name of the 
particular instance, no less deep and straight a dive into the 
deep sea of a certain general truth than I had taken in quest 
of "Flickerbridge." The general truth had been positively 
phrased for me by a distinguished friend, a novelist not to 
our manner either born or bred, on the occasion of his hav- 
ing made such answer as he could to an interlocutor (he, oh 
distinctly, indigenous and glib!) bent on learning from him 
why the adventures he imputed to his heroines were so per- 
versely and persistently but of a type impossible to ladies re-< 
specting themselves. My friend's reply had been, not unnatu- 



rally, and above all not incongruously, that ladies who respected 
themselves took particular care never to have adventures; not 
the least little adventure that would be worth (worth any self- 
respecting novelist's) speaking of. There were certainly, it was 
to be hoped, ladies who practised that reserve which, however 
beneficial to themselves, was yet fatally detrimental to liter- 
ature, in the sense of promptly making any artistic harmony 
pitched in the same low key trivial and empty. A picture of 
life founded on the mere reserves and omissions and suppres- 
sions of life, what sort of a performance for beauty, for in- 
terest, for tone-^could that hope to be ? The enquiry was n't 
answered in any hearing of mine, and of course indeed, on all 
such ground, discussion, to be really luminous, would have to 
rest on some such perfect definition of terms as is not of this 
muddled world. It is, not surprisingly, one of the rudiments 
of criticism that a human, a personal "adventure" is no a 
priori, no positive and absolute and inelastic thing, but just a 
matter of relation and appreciation a name we conveniently 
give, after the fact, to any passage, to any situation, that has 
added the sharp taste of uncertainty to a quickened sense of 
life. Therefore the thing is, all beautifully, a matter of inter- 
pretation and of the particular conditions; without a view of 
which latter some of the most prodigious adventures, as one 
has often had occasion to say, may vulgarly show for nothing. 
However that may be, I hasten to add, the mere stir of the air 
round the question reflected in the brief but earnest inter- 
change I have just reported was to cause a "subject," to my 
sense, immediately to bloom there. So it suddenly, on its small 
scale, seemed to stand erect or at least quite intelligently to lift 
its head; just a subject, clearly, though I could n't immediately 
tell which or what. To find out I had to get a little closer to 
it, and "The Story In It" precisely represents that undertaking. 
As for "The Beldonald Holbein," about which I have said 
nothing, that story by which I mean the story of itwould 
take us much too far. "Mrs. Medwin," published in "Punch" 



(1902) and in "The Better Sort" (1903), I have also accom- 
modated here for convenience. There is a note or two I would 
fain add to this; but I check myself with the sense of having, 
as it is, to all probability, vindicated with a due zeal, not to 
say a due extravagance, the most general truth of many a 
story-teller's case: the truth, already more than once elsewhere 
glanced at, that what longest lives to his backward vision, in 
the whole business, is not the variable question of the "success/ 3 
hut the inveterate romance of the labour. 




"THE WINGS OF THE DOVE," published in 1902, represents to 
my memory a very old if I shouldn't perhaps rather say a 
very young motive; I can scarce remember the time when the 
situation on which this long-drawn fiction mainly rests was not 
vividly present to me. The idea, reduced to its essence, is that 
of a young person^ conscious of a great capacity for life, but 
eariynstrfelSSi and doomed^ 'mad^mted^fo^'dier^iinLder ' short 
respite,.-white'arsb ll feliamotlired of the world; aware moreover of 
the condemnation and passionately desiring to "put in" before 
extinction as many of the finer vibrations as possible, and so 
achieve, however briefly and brokenly, the sense of having 
lived. Long had I turned it over, standing off from it, yet 
coming back to it; convinced of what might be done with it, 
yet seeing the theme as formidable. The image so figured 
would be, at best, but half the matter; the rest would be all the 
picture of the struggle involved, the adventure brought about, 
the gain recorded or the loss incurred, the precious experience 
somehow compassed. These things, I had from the first felt, 
would require much working-out; that indeed was the case 
with most things worth working at all; yet there are sub- 
jects and subjects, and this one seemed particularly to bristle. 
It was formed, I judged, to make the wary adventurer walk 
round and round it it had in fact a charm that invited and 
mystified alike that attention; not being somehow what one 
thought of as a "frank" subject, after the fashion of some, 
with its elements well in view and its whole character in its 


face. It stood there with secrets and compartments, with pos- 
sible treacheries and traps; it might have a great deal to give, 
but would probably ask for equal services in return, and would 
collect this debt to the last shilling. It involved, to begin with, 
the placing in the strongest light a person infirm and ill a case 
sure to prove difficult and to require much handling; though 
giving perhaps, with other matters, one of those chances for 
good taste, possibly even for the play of the very best in the 
world, that are not only always to be invoked and cultivated, 
but that are absolutely to be jumped at from the moment they 
make a sign. 

Yes then, the case prescribed for its central figure a sick 
young woman, at the whole course of whose disintegration 
and the whole ordeal of whose consciousness one would have 
quite honestly to assist. The expression of her state and that of 
one's intimate relation to it might therefore well need to be 
discreet and ingenious; a reflexion that fortunately grew and 
grew, however, in proportion as I focussed my image round- 
about which, as it persisted, I repeat, the interesting possibilities 
and the attaching wonderments, not to say the insoluble my&- 
teries, thickened apace. Why had one to look so straight in 
the face and so closely to cross-question that idea of making 
one's protagonist "sick"? as if to be menaced with death or 
danger hadn't been from time immemorial, for heroine or 
hero, the very shortest of all cuts to the interesting state. Why 
should a figure be disqualified for a central position by the 
particular circumstance that might most quicken, that might 
crown with a fine intensity, its liability to many accidents, its 
consciousness of all relations? This circumstance, true enough, 
might disqualify it for many activities even though we should 
have imputed to it the unsurpassable activity of passionate, 
of inspired resistance. This last fact was the real issue, for 
the way grew straight from the moment one recognised that 
the poet essentially can't be concerned with the act of dying. 
Let him deal with the sickest of the sick, it is still by the 



act of living that they appeal to him, and appeal the more 
as the conditions plot against them and prescribe the battle. 
The process of life gives way fighting, and often may so shine 
out on the lost ground as in no other connexion. One had had 
moreover, as a various chronicler, one's secondary physical 
weaklings and failures, one's accessory invalids introduced 
with a complacency that made light of criticism. To Ralph 
Touchett in "The Portrait of a Lady," for instance, his de- 
plorable state of health was not only no drawback; I had 
clearly been right in counting it, for any happy effect he should 
produce, a positive good mark, a direct aid to pleasantness and 
vividness. The reason of this moreover could never in the 
world have been his fact of sex; since men, among the mor- 
tally afflicted, suffer on the whole more overtly and more 
grossly than women, and resist with a ruder, an inferior 
strategy. I had thus to take that anomaly for what it was worth, 
and I give it here but as one of the ambiguities amid which my 
subject ended by making itself at home and seating itself 
quite in confidence. 

With the clearness I have just noted, accordingly, the last 
thing in the world it proposed to itself was to be the record 
predominantly of a collapse. I don't mean to say that my 
offered victim was not present to my imagination, constantly, as 
dragged by a greater force than any she herself could exert; she 
had been given me from far back as contesting every inch of the 
road, as catching at every object the grasp of which might make 
for delay, as clutching these things to the last moment of her 
strength. Such an attitude and such movements, the passion 
they expressed and the success they in fact represented, what 
were they in truth but the soul of drama? which is the por- 
trayal, as we know, of a catastrophe determined in spite of 
oppositions. My young woman would herself be the opposi- 
tion to the catastrophe announced by the associated Fates, 
powers conspiring to a sinister end and, with their command 
of means, finally achieving it, yet in such straits really to stifle 



the sacred spark that, obviously, a creature so animated, an ad- 
versary so subtle, couldn't but be felt worthy, under what- 
ever weaknesses, of the foreground and the limelight She 
would meanwhile wish, moreover, all along, to live for par- 
ticular things, she would found her struggle on particular 
human interests, which would inevitably determine, in respect 
to her, the attitude of other persons, persons affected in such a 
manner as to make them part of the action. If her impulse to 
wrest from her shrinking hour still as much of the fruit of life 
as possible, if this longing can take effect only by the aid of 
others, their participation (appealed to, entangled and coerced 
as they find themselves) becomes their drama too that of their 
promoting her illusion, under her importunity, for reasons, for 
interests and advantages, from motives and points of view, of 
their own. Some of these promptings,, evidently, would be o 
the highest order others doubtless might n't; but they would 
make up together, for her, contribute vely, her sum of experi- 
ence, represent to her somehow, in good faith or in bad, what 
she should have known. Somehow, too, at such a rate, one 
would see the persons subject to them drawn in as by some pool 
of a Lorelei see them terrified and tempted and charmed; 
bribed away, it may even be, from more prescribed and natu- 
ral orbits, inheriting from their connexion with her strange 
difficulties and still stranger opportunities, confronted with 
rare questions and called upon for new discriminations. Thus 
the scheme of her situation would, in a comprehensive way, 
see itself constituted; the rest of the interest would be in the 
number and nature of the particulars. Strong among these, 
naturally, the need that life should, apart from her infirmity, 
present itself to our young woman as quite dazzlingly live- 
able, and that if the great pang for her is in what she must 
give up we shall appreciate it the more from the sight of all 
she has. 

One would see her then as possessed of all things, all but 
the single most precious assurance; freedom and money and 


a mobile mind and personal charm, the power to interest 
and attach; attributes, each one, enhancing the value of a 
future. From the moment his imagination began to deal with 
her at close quarters, in fact, nothing could more engage 
her designer than to work out the detail of her perfect right- 
ness for her part; nothing above all more solicit him than 
to recognise fifty reasons for her national and social status. 
She should be the last fine flower blooming alone, for the 
fullest attestation of her freedom of an "old" New York 
stem; the happy congruities thus preserved for her being 
matters, however, that I may not now go into, and this 
even though the fine association that shall yet elsewhere await 
me is of a sort, at the best, rather to defy than to encourage 
exact expression. There goes with it, for the heroine of "The 
Wings of the Dove," a strong and special implication of 
liberty, liberty of action, of choice, of appreciation, of con- 
tactproceeding from sources that provide better for large 
independence, I think, than any other conditions in the world 
and this would be in particular what we should feel our- 
selves deeply concerned with. I had from far back mentally 
projected a certain sort of young American as more the "heir 
of all the ages" than any other young person whatever (and 
precisely on those grounds I have just glanced at but to pass 
them by for the moment) ; so that here was a chance to con- 
fer on some such figure a supremely touching value. To be the 
heir of all the ages only to know yourself, as that consciousness 
should deepen, balked of your inheritance, would be to play 
the part, it struck me, or at least to arrive at the type, in the 
light on the whole the most becoming. Otherwise, truly, what 
a perilous part to play out what a suspicion of "swagger" in 
positively attempting it! So at least I could reason so I even 
think I had to to keep my subject to a decent compactness. 
For already, from an early stage, it had begun richly to people 
itself: the difficulty was to see whom the situation I had pri- 
marily projected might, by this, that or the other turn, not 



draw in. My business was to watch its turns as the fond parent 
watches a child perched, for its first riding-lesson, in the saddle; 
yet its interest, I had all the while to recall, was just in its 
making, on such a scale, for developments. 

What one had discerned, at all events, from an early stage, 
was that a young person so devoted and exposed, a creature 
with her security hanging so by a hair, could n't but fall some- 
how into some abysmal trap this being, dramatically speak- 
ing, what such a situation most naturally implied and imposed. 
Did n't the truth and a great part of the interest also reside in 
the appearance that she would constitute for others (given her 
passionate yearning to live while she might) a complication as 
great as any they might constitute for herself? which is what I 
mean when I speak of such matters as "natural." They would 
be as natural, these tragic, pathetic, ironic, these indeed for the 
most part sinister, liabilities, to her living associates, as they 
could be to herself as prime subject. If her story was to con- 
sist, as it could so little help doing, of her being let in, as we 
say, for this, that and the other irreducible anxiety, how could 
she not have put a premium on the acquisition, by any close 
sharer of her life, of a consciousness similarly embarrassed? 
I have named the Rhine-maiden, but our young friend's 
existence would create rather, all round her, very much that 
whirlpool movement of the waters produced by the sinking 
of a big vessel or the failure of a great business; when we 
figure to ourselves the strong narrowing eddies, the immense 
force of suction, the general engulfment that, for any neigh- 
bouring object, makes immersion inevitable. I need scarce 
say, however, that in spite of these communities of doom I 
saw the main dramatic complication much more prepared 
for my vessel of sensibility than by her the work of other 
hands (though with her own imbrued too, after all, in the 
measure of their never not being, in some direction, gener- 
ous and extravagant, and thereby provoking). 

The great point was, at all events, that if in a predica- 



ment she was to be, accordingly, it would be o the essence 
to create the predicament promptly and build it up solidly, 
so that it should have for us as much as possible its ominous 
air of awaiting her. That reflexion I found, betimes, not 
less inspiring than urgent; one begins so, in such a business, 
by looking about for one's compositional key, unable as one 
can only be to move till one has found it. To start without 
it is to pretend to enter the train and, still more, to remain 
in one's seat, without a ticket. Well in the steady light 
and for the continued charm of these verifications I had 
secured my ticket over the tolerably long line laid down for 
"The Wings of the Dove" from the moment I had noted 
that there could be no full presentation of Milly Theale as 
engaged with elements amid which she was to draw her 
breath in such pain, should not the elements have been, with 
all solicitude, duly prefigured. If one had seen that her 
stricken state was but half her case, the correlative half being 
the state of others as affected by her (they too should have 
a "case," bless them, quite as much as she!) then I was 
free to choose, as it were, the half with which I should 
begin. If, as I had fondly noted, the little world determined 
for her was to "bristle" I delighted in the term! with 
meanings, so, by the same token, could I but make my medal 
hang free, its obverse and its reverse, its face and its back, 
would beautifully become optional for the spectator. I some- 
how wanted them correspondingly embossed, wanted them 
inscribed and figured with an equal salience; yet it was none 
the less visibly my "key," as I have said, that though my 
regenerate young New Yorker, and what might depend on 
her, should form my centre, my circumference was every whit 
as treatable. Therefore I must trust myself to know when to 
proceed from the one and when from the other. Preparatively 
and, as it were, yearningly given the whole ground one be- 
gan, in the event, with the outer ring, approaching the centre 
thus by narrowing circurnvallations. There, full-blown, ac- 



cordingly, from one hour to the other, rose one's process for 
which there remained all the while so many amusing formulae. 
The medal did hang free I felt this perfectly, I remem- 
ber, from the moment I had comfortably laid the ground pro- 
vided in my first Book, ground from which Milly is super- 
ficially so absent. I scarce remember perhaps a case I like 
even with this public grossness to insist on it in which the 
curiosity of "beginning far back," as far back as possible, and 
even of going, to the same tune, far "behind," that is behind 
the face of the subject, was to assert itself with less scruple. 
The free hand, in this connexion, was above all agreeable the 
hand the freedom of which I owed to the fact that the work 
had ignominiously failed, in advance, of all power to see itself 
"serialised." This failure had repeatedly waited, for me, upon 
shorter fictions; but the considerable production we here 
discuss was (as "The Golden Bowl" was to be, two or three 
years later) born, not otherwise than a little bewilderedly, into 
a world of periodicals and editors, of roaring "successes" in 
fine, amid which it was well-nigh unnotedly to lose itself. 
There is fortunately something bracing, ever, in the alpine 
chill, that of some high icy arete, shed by the cold editorial 
shoulder; sour grapes may at moments fairly intoxicate and 
the story-teller worth his salt rejoice to feel again how many 
accommodations he can practise. Those addressed to "condi- 
tions of publication" have in a degree their interesting, or at 
least their provoking, side; but their charm is qualified by the 
fact that the prescriptions here spring from a soil often wholly 
alien to the ground of the work itself. They are almost always 
the fruit of another air altogether and conceived in a light 
liable to represent within the circle of the work itself little 
else than darkness. Still, when not too blighting, they often 
operate as a tax on ingenuity that ingenuity of the expert 
craftsman which likes to be taxed very much to the same tune 
to which a well-bred horse likes to be saddled. The best and 
finest ingenuities, nevertheless, with all respect to that truth, 



are apt to be, not one's compromises, but one's fullest conformi- 
ties, and I well remember, in the case before us, the pleasure o 
feeling my divisions, my proportions and general rhythm, rest 
all on permanent rather than in any degree on momentary pro- 
prieties. It was enough for my alternations, thus, that they 
were good in themselves; it was in fact so much for them that 
I really think any further account of the constitution of the 
book reduces itself to a just notation of the law they followed. 
There was the "fun," to begin with, of establishing one's 
successive centres of fixing them so exactly that the por- 
tions of the subject commanded by them as by happy points 
of view, and accordingly treated from them, would consti- 
tute, so to speak, sufficiently solid blocks of wrought material, 
squared to the sharp edge, as to have weight and mass and 
carrying power; to make for construction, that is, to con- 
duce to effect and to provide for beauty. Such a block, ob- 
viously, is the whole preliminary presentation of Kate Croy, 
which, from the first, I recall, absolutely declined to enact 
itself save in terms of amplitude. Terms of amplitude, terms 
of atmosphere, those terms, and those terms only, in which 
images assert their fulness and roundness, their power to re- 
volve, so that they have sides and backs, parts in the shade 
as true as parts in the sun these were plainly to be my con- 
ditions, right and left, and I was so far from overrating the 
amount of expression the whole thing, as I saw and felt it, 
would require, that to retrace the way at present is, alas, more 
than anything else, but to mark the gaps and the lapses, to miss, 
one by one, the intentions that, with the best will in the world, 
were not to fructify. I have just said that the process of the 
general attempt is described from the moment the "blocks" 
are numbered, and that would be a true enough picture of my 
plan. Yet one's plan, alas, is one thing and one's result another; 
so I am perhaps nearer the point in saying that this last strikes 
me at present as most characterised by the happy features that 
were, under my first and most blest illusion, to have contributed 


to it. I meet them all, as I renew acquaintance, I mourn for 
them all as I remount the stream, the absent values, the palpa- 
ble voids, the missing links, the mocking shadows, that reflect, 
taken together, the early bloom of one's good faith. Such 
cases are of course far from abnormal so far from it that 
some acute mind ought surely to have worked out by this 
time the "law" of the degree in which the artist's energy 
fairly depends on his fallibility. How much and how often, 
end in what connexions and with what almost infinite variety, 
must he be a dupe, that of his prime object, to be at all measur- 
ably a master, that of his actual substitute for it or in other 
words at all appreciably to exist? He places, after an earnest 
survey, the piers of his bridge he has at least sounded deep 
enough, heaven knows, for their brave position; yet the bridge 
spans the stream, after the fact, in apparently complete inde^ 
pendence of these properties, the principal grace of the original 
design. They were an illusion, for their necessary hour; but 
the span itself, whether of a single arch or of many, seems by 
the oddest chance in the world to be a reality; since, actually, 
the rueful builder, passing under it, sees figures and hears 
sounds above: he makes out, with his heart in his throat, that 
it bears and is positively being "used." 

The building-up of Kate Croy's consciousness to the capacity 
for the load little by little to be laid on it was, by way of exam- 
ple, to have been a matter of as many hundred close-packed 
bricks as there are actually poor dozens. The image of her so 
compromised and compromising father was all effectively to 
have pervaded her life, was in a certain particular way to have 
tampered with her spring; by which I mean that the shame and 
the irritation and the depression, the general poisonous influ- 
ence of him, were to have been shown, with a truth beyond the 
compass even of one's most emphasised "word of honour" for 
it, to do these things. But where do we find him, at this time 
of day, save in a beggarly scene or two which scarce arrives at 
the dignity of functional reference? He but 6f looks in," poor 



beautiful dazzling, damning apparition that he was to have 
been; he sees his place so taken, his company so little missed, 
that, cocking again that fine form of hat which has yielded 
him for so long his one effective cover, he turns away with 
a whistle of indifference that nobly misrepresents the deepest 
disappointment of his life. One's poor word of honour has 
had to pass muster for the show. Every one, in short, was to 
have enjoyed so much better a chance that, like stars of the 
theatre condescending to oblige, they have had to take small 
parts, to content themselves with minor identities, in order 
to come on at all. I haven't the heart now, I confess, to 
adduce the detail of so many lapsed importances; the ex- 
planation of most of which, after all, I take to have been in 
the crudity of a truth beating full upon me through these 
reconsiderations, the odd inveteracy with which picture, at 
almost any turn, is jealous of drama, and drama (though on 
the whole with a greater patience, I think) suspicious of pic- 
ture. Between them, no doubt, they do much for the theme; 
yet each baffles insidiously the other's ideal and eats round the 
edges of its position; each is too ready to say "I can take the 
thing for 'done' only when done in my way." The residuum 
of comfort for the witness of these broils is of course mean- 
while in the convenient reflexion, invented for him in the 
twilight o time and the infancy of art by the Angel, not to 
say by the Demon, of Compromise, that nothing is so easy to 
"do" as not to be thankful for almost any stray help in its get- 
ting done. It was n't, after this fashion, by making good one's 
dream of Lionel Croy that my structure was to stand on its 
f eet: any more than it was by letting him go that I was to be 
left irretrievably lamenting. The who and the what, the how 
and the why, the whence and the whither of Merton Densher, 
these, no less, were quantities and attributes that should have 
danced about him with the antique grace of nymphs and fauns 
circling round a bland Hermes and crowning him with flowers. 
One's main anxiety, for each one's agents, is that the air o 



each shall be given; but what does the whole thing become, 
after all, as one goes, but a series o sad places at which the 
hand of generosity has been cautioned and stayed ? The young 
man's situation, personal, professional, social, was to have 
been so decanted for us that we should get all the taste; we 
were to have been penetrated with Mrs. Lowder, by the same 
token, saturated with her presence, her "personality," and felt 
all her weight in the scale. We were to have revelled in Mrs. 
Stringham, my heroine's attendant friend, her fairly choral 
Bostonian, a subject for innumerable touches, and in an ex- 
tended and above all an animated reflexion of Milly Theale's 
experience of English society; just as the strength and sense of 
the situation in Venice, for our gathered friends, was to have 
come to us in a deeper draught out of a larger cup, and just 
as the pattern of Densher's final position and fullest conscious- 
ness there was to have been marked in fine stitches, all silk and 
gold, all pink and silver, that have had to remain, alas, but 
entwined upon the reel. 

It is n't, no doubt, however to recover, after all, our criti- 
cal balance that the pattern didn't, for each compartment, 
get itself somehow wrought, and that we might n't thus, piece 
by piece, opportunity offering, trace it over and study it. The 
thing has doubtless, as a whole, the advantage that each piece 
is true to its pattern, and that while it pretends to make no 
simple statement it yet never lets go its scheme of clearness. 
Applications of this scheme are continuous and exemplary 
enough, though I scarce leave myself room to glance at them. 
The clearness is obtained in Book First or otherwise, as I 
have said, in the first "piece," each Book having its subordi- 
nate and contributive pattern through the associated con- 
sciousness of my two prime young persons, for whom I early 
recognised that I should have to consent, under stress, to a prac- 
tical fusion of consciousness. It is into the young woman's 
"ken" that Merton Densher is represented as swimming; but 
her mind is not here, rigorously, the one reflector. There are 



occasions when it plays this part, just as there are others when 
his plays it, and an intelligible plan consists naturally not a 
little in fixing such occasions and making them, on one side 
and the other, sufficient to themselves. Do I sometimes in 
fact forfeit the advantage of that distinctness? Do I ever 
abandon one centre for another after the former has been 
postulated? From the moment we proceed by "centres" 
and I have never, I confess, embraced the logic of any su- 
perior process they must be, each, as a basis, selected and 
fixed; after which it is that, in the high interest of economy 
of treatment, they determine and rule. There is no economy 
of treatment without an adopted, a related point of view, 
and though I understand, under certain degrees of pressure, 
a represented community of vision between several parties 
to the action when it makes for concentration, I understand 
no breaking-up of the register, no sacrifice of the recording 
consistency, that doesn't rather scatter and weaken. In this 
truth resides the secret of the discriminated occasion that 
aspect of the subject which we have our noted choice of treat- 
ing either as picture or scenically, buc which is apt, I think, 
to show its fullest worth in the Scene. Beautiful exceedingly, 
for that matter, those occasions or parts of an occasion when 
the boundary line between picture and scene bears a little the 
weight of the double pressure. 

Such would be the case, I can't but surmise, for the long 
passage that forms here before us the opening of Book Fourth, 
where all the offered life centres, to intensity, in the disclos- 
ure of Milly's single throbbing consciousness, but where, for 
a due rendering, everything has to be brought to a head. 
This passage, the view of her introduction to Mrs. Lowder's 
circle, has Its mate, for illustration, later on in the book and 
at a crisis for which the occasion submits to another rule. 
My registers or "reflectors," as I so conveniently name them 
(burnished indeed as they generally are by the intelligence, 
the curiosity, the passion, the force of the moment, what- 



ever it be, directing them), work, as we have seen, in ar- 
ranged alternation; so that in the second connexion I here 
glance at it is Kate Croy who is, "for all she is worth," turned 
on. She is turned on largely at Venice, where the appearances, 
rich and obscure and portentous (another word I rejoice in) 
as they have by that time become and altogether exquisite as 
they remain, are treated almost wholly through her vision of 
them and Densher's (as to the lucid interplay of which con- 
spiring and conflicting agents there would be a great deal to 
say). It is in Kate's consciousness that at the stage in question 
the drama is brought to a head, and the occasion on which, in 
the splendid saloon of poor Milly's hired palace, she takes the 
measure of her friend's festal evening, squares itself to the same 
synthetic firmness as the compact constructional block inserted 
by the scene at Lancaster Gate. Milly's situation ceases at a 
given moment to be "renderable" in terms closer than those 
supplied by Kate's intelligence, or, in a richer degree, by 
Densher's, or, for one fond hour, by poor Mrs. Stringham's 
(since to that sole brief futility is this last participant, crowned 
by my original plan with the quaintest functions, in fact re- 
duced); just as Kate's relation with Densher and Densher's 
with Kate have ceased previously, and are then to cease again, 
to be projected for us, so far as Milly is concerned with them, 
on any more responsible plate than that of the latter's admirable 
anxiety. It is as if, for these aspects, the impersonal plate in 
other words the poor author's comparatively cold affirmation 
or thin guarantee had felt itself a figure of attestation at once 
too gross and too bloodless, likely to affect us as an abuse of 
privilege when not as an abuse of knowledge. 

Heaven forbid, we say to ourselves during almost the whole 
Venetian climax, heaven forbid we should "know" anything 
more of our ravaged sister than what Densher darkly pieces 
together, or than what Kate Croy pays, heroically, it must 
be owned, at the hour of her visit alone to Densher's lodging, 
for her superior handling and her dire profanation of. For we 



have time, while this passage lasts, to turn round critically; we 
have time to recognise intentions and proprieties; we have time 
to catch glimpses of an economy of composition, as I put it, 
interesting in itself: all in spite of the author's scarce more than 
half-dissimulated despair at the inveterate displacement of his 
general centre. "The Wings of the Dove" happens to offer 
perhaps the most striking example I may cite (though with 
public penance for it already performed) of my regular fail- 
ure to keep the appointed halves of my whole equal. Here 
the makeshift middlefor which the best I can say is that it 's 
always rueful and never impudent reigns with even more 
than its customary contrition, though passing itself off per- 
haps too with more than its usual craft. Nowhere, I seem to 
recall, had the need of dissimulation been felt so as anguish; 
nowhere had I condemned a luckless theme to complete its 
revolution, burdened with the accumulation of its difficulties, 
the difficulties that grow with a theme's development, in quar- 
ters so cramped. Of course, as every novelist knows, it is diffi- 
culty that inspires; only, for that perfection of charm, it must 
have been difficulty inherent and congenital, and not difficulty 
"caught" by the wrong frequentations. The latter half, that is 
the false and deformed half, of "The Wings" would verily, I 
think, form a signal object-lesson for a literary critic bent on 
improving his occasion to the profit of the budding artist. This 
whole corner of the picture bristles with "dodges" such as he 
should feel himself all committed to recognise and denounce 
for disguising the reduced scale of the exhibition, for fore- 
shortening at any cost, for imparting to patches the value of 
presences, for dressing objects in an air as of the dimensions 
they can't possibly have. Thus he would have his free hand 
for pointing out what a tangled web we weave when well, 
when, through our mislaying or otherwise trifling with our 
blest pair of compasses, we have to produce the illusion of mass 
without the illusion of extent. There is a job quite to the meas- 
ure of most of our monitors and with the interest for them 



well enhanced by the preliminary cunning quest for the spot 
where deformity has begun. 

I recognise meanwhile, throughout the long earlier reach 
o the book, not only no deformities but, I think, a posi- 
tively close and felicitous application of method, the pre- 
served consistencies of which, often illusive, but never really 
lapsing, it would be of a certain diversion, and might be of 
some profit, to follow. The author's accepted task at the 
outset has been to suggest with force the nature of the tie 
formed between the two young persons first introduced 
to give the full impression of its peculiar worried and baffled, 
yet clinging and confident, ardour. The picture constituted, 
so far as may be, is that of a pair of natures well-nigh con- 
sumed by a sense of their intimate affinity and congruity, 
the reciprocity of their desire, and thus passionately impa- 
tient of barriers and delays, yet with qualities of intelligence 
and character that they are meanwhile extraordinarily able 
to draw upon for the enrichment of their relation, the ex- 
tension of their prospect and the support of their "game." 
They are far from a common couple, Merton Densher and 
Kate Croy, as befits the remarkable fashion in which fortune 
was to waylay and opportunity was to distinguish them 
the whole strange truth of their response to which opening 
involves also, in its order, no vulgar art of exhibition; but what 
they have most to tell us is that, all unconsciously and with the 
best faith in the world, all by mere force of the terms of their 
superior passion combined with their superior diplomacy, they 
are laying a trap for the great innocence to come. If I like, 
as I have confessed, the "portentous" look, I was perhaps never 
to set so high a value on it as for all this prompt provision of 
forces unwittingly waiting to close round my eager heroine (to 
the eventual deep chill of her eagerness) as the result of her 
mere lifting of a latch. Infinitely interesting to have built up 
the relation of the others to the point at which its aching rest- 
lessness, its need to affirm itself otherwise than by an exasper* 



ated patience, meets as with instinctive relief and recognition 
the possibilities shining out of Milly Theale. Infinitely in- 
teresting to have prepared and organised, correspondingly, that 
young woman's precipitations and liabilities, to have con- 
structed, for Drama essentially to take possession, the whole 
bright house of her exposure. 

These references, however, reflect too little of the detail of 
the treatment imposed; such a detail as I for instance get 
hold of in the fact of Densher's interview with Mrs. Lowder 
before he goes to America. It forms, in this preliminary pic- 
ture, the one patch not strictly seen over Kate Croy's shoulder; 
though it 's notable that immediately after, at the first possible 
moment, we surrender again to our major convenience, as it 
happens to be at the time, that of our drawing breath through 
the young woman's lungs. Once more, in other words, before 
we know It, Densher's direct vision of the scene at Lancaster 
Gate is replaced by her apprehension, her contributive assimi- 
lation, of his experience: it melts back into that accumulation, 
which we have been, as it were, saving up. Does my apparent 
deviation here count accordingly as a muddle? one of the 
muddles ever blooming so thick in any soil that fails to grow 
reasons and determinants. No, distinctly not; for I had defi- 
nitely opened the door, as attention of perusal of the first two 
Books will show, to the subjective community of my young 
pair. (Attention of perusal, I thus confess by the way, is 
what I at every point, as well as here, absolutely invoke 
and take for granted; a truth I avail myself of this occasion 
to note once for all in the interest of that variety of ideal 
reigning, I gather, in the connexion. The enjoyment of a 
work of art, the acceptance of an irresistible illusion, con- 
stituting, to my sense, our highest experience of "luxury," 
the luxury is not greatest, by my consequent measure, when 
the work asks for as little attention as possible. It is greatest, 
it is delightfully, divinely great, when we feel the surface, 
like the thick ice of the skater's pond, bear without cracking 



the strongest pressure we throw on it. The sound of the crack 
one may recognise, but never surely to call it a luxury.) That 
I had scarce availed myself of the privilege of seeing with 
Densher's eyes is another matter; the point is that I had intelli- 
gently marked my possible, my occasional need of it. So, at all 
events, the constructional "block" of the first two Books com- 
pactly forms itself. A new block, all of the squarest and not a 
little of the smoothest, begins with the Third by which I mean 
of course a new mass of interest governed from a new centre. 
Here again I make prudent provision to be sure to keep my 
centre strong. It dwells mainly, we at once see, in the depths 
of Milly Theale's "case," where, close beside it, however, we 
meet a supplementary reflector, that of the lucid even though 
so quivering spirit of her dedicated friend. 

The more or less associated consciousness of the two women 
deals thus, unequally, with the next presented face of the 
subject deals with it to the exclusion of the dealing of others; 
and if, for a highly particular moment, I allot to Mrs. String- 
ham the responsibility of the direct appeal to us, it is again, 
charming to relate, on behalf of that play of the portentous 
which I cherish so as a "value" and am accordingly for ever 
setting in motion. There is an hour of evening, on the alpine 
height, at which it becomes of the last importance that our 
young woman should testify eminently in this direction. But 
as I was to find it long since of a blest wisdom that no expense 
should be incurred or met, in any corner of picture of mine, 
without some concrete image of the account kept of it, that is 
of its being organically re-economised, so under that dispen- 
sation Mrs. Stringham has to register the transaction. Book 
Fifth is a new block mainly in its provision of a new set of 
occasions, which readopt, for their order, the previous centre, 
Milly's now almost full-blown consciousness. At my game, 
with renewed zest, of driving portents home, I have by this 
time all the choice of those that are to brush that surface with a 
dark wing. They are used, to our profit, on an elastic but a 



definite system; by which I mean that having to sound here 
and there a little deep, as a test, for my basis o method, I find 
it everywhere obstinately present. It draws the "occasion" 
into tune and keeps It so, to repeat my tiresome term; my 
nearest approach to muddlement is to have sometimes but 
not too often to break my occasions small. Some of them 
succeed in remaining ample and in really aspiring then to 
the higher, the sustained lucidity. The whole actual centre 
of the work, resting on a misplaced pivot and lodged in 
Book Fifth, pretends to a long reach, or at any rate to the 
larger foreshortening though bringing home to me, on re- 
perusal, what I find striking, charming and curious, the au- 
thor's instinct everywhere for the indirect presentation of his 
main image. I note how, again and again, I go but a little 
way with the direct that is with the straight exhibition of 
Milly; it resorts for relief, this process, whenever it can, to some 
kinder, some merciful indirection: all as if to approach her 
circuitously, deal with her at second hand, as an unspotted 
princess is ever dealt with; the pressure all round her kept easy 
for her, the sounds, the movements regulated, the forms and 
ambiguities made charming. All of which proceeds, obviously, 
from her painter's tenderness of imagination about her, which 
reduces him to watching her, as it were, through the successive 
windows of other people's interest in her. So, if we talk of 
princesses, do the balconies opposite the palace gates, do the 
coigns of vantage and respect enjoyed for a fee, rake from 
afar the mystic figure in the gilded coach as it comes forth into 
the great place. But my use of windows and balconies is doubt- 
less at best an extravagance by itself, and as to what there may 
be to note, of this and other supersubtleties, other arch-refine- 
ments, of tact and taste, of design and instinct, in "The Wings 
of the Dove," I become conscious of overstepping my space 
without having brought the full quantity to light. The fail- 
ure leaves me with a burden of residuary comment of which 
J yet boldly hope elsewhere to discharge myself. 




NOTHING is more easy than to state the subject of "The Ambas- 
sadors/' which first appeared in twelve numbers of "The 
North American Review" (1903) and was published as a whole 
the same year. The situation involved is gathered up betimes, 
that is in the second chapter of Book Fifth, for the reader's 
benefit, into as few words as possible planted or "sunk," stiffly 
and saliently, in the centre of the current, almost perhaps to the 
obstruction of traffic. Never can a composition of this sort 
have sprung straighter from a dropped grain of suggestion, and 
never can that grain, developed, overgrown and smothered, 
have yet lurked more in the mass as an independent particle. 
The whole case, in fine, is in Lambert Strether's irrepressible 
outbreak to little Bilhani on the Sunday afternoon in Glori- 
ani's garden, the candour with which he yields, for his young 
friend's enlightenment, to the charming admonition of that 
crisis. The idea of the tale resides indeed in the very fact that 
an hour of such unprecedented ease should have been felt by 
him as a crisis, and he is at pains to express it for us as neatly 
as we could desire. The remarks to which he thus gives utter- 
ance contain the essence of "The Ambassadors," his fingers 
close, before he has done, round the stem of the full-blown 
flower; which, after that fashion, he continues officiously to 
present to us. "Live all you can; it 's a mistake not to. It does n't 
so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have 
your life. If you have n't had that what have you had? I 'm too 
old too old at any rate for what I see. What one loses one 



loses; make no mistake about that. Still, we have the illu- 
sion of freedom; therefore don't, like me to-day, be without 
the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, 
too stupid or too intelligent to have it, and now I'm a case 
of reaction against the mistake. Do what you like so long 
as you don't make it. For it was a mistake. Live, live!" 
Such is the gist of Strether's appeal to the impressed youth, 
whom he likes and whom he desires to befriend; the word 
"mistake" occurs several times, it will be seen, in the course 
of his remarks which gives the measure o the signal warn- 
ing he feels attached to his case. He has accordingly missed 
too much, though perhaps after all constitutionally qualified 
for a better part, and he wakes up to it in conditions that 
press the spring of a terrible question. Would there yet per- 
haps be time for reparation? reparation, that is, for the injury 
done his character; for the affront, he is quite ready to say, so 
stupidly put upon it and in which he has even himself had so 
clumsy a hand? The answer to which is that he now at all 
events sees; so that the business of my tale and the march of my 
action, not to say the precious moral of everything, is just my 
demonstration of this process of vision. 

Nothing can exceed the closeness with which the whole 
fits again into its germ. That had been given me bodily, as 
usual, by the spoken word, for I was to take the image over 
exactly as I happened to have met it. A friend had repeated 
to me, with great appreciation, a thing or two said to him 
by a man of distinction, much his senior, and to which a 
sense akin to that of Strether's melancholy eloquence might 
be imputed- said as chance would have, and so easily might, 
in Paris, and in a charming old garden attached to a house 
of art, and on a Sunday afternoon of summer, many persons 
of great interest being present. The observation there listened 
to and gathered up had contained part of the "note" that I was 
to recognise on the spot as to my purpose had contained in 
fact the greater part; the rest was in the place and the time and 



the scene they sketched: these constituents clustered and com- 
bined to give me further support, to give me what I may call 
the note absolute. There it stands, accordingly, full in the tide- 
way; driven in, with hard taps, like some strong stake for the 
noose of a cable, the swirl of the current roundabout it. What 
amplified the hint to more than the bulk of hints in general 
was the gift with it of the old Paris garden, for in that token 
were sealed up values infinitely precious. There was of course 
the seal to break and each item of the packet to count over and 
handle and estimate; but somehow, in the light of the hint, 
all the elements of a situation of the sort most to my taste 
were there. I could even remember no occasion on which, 
so confronted, I had found it of a livelier interest to take 
stock, in this fashion, of suggested wealth. For I think, 
verily, that there are degrees of merit in subjects in spite 
of the fact that to treat even one of the most ambiguous 
with due decency we must for the time, for the feverish and 
prejudiced hour, at least figure its merit and its dignity as 
possibly absolute. What it comes to, doubtless, is that even 
among the supremely good since with such alone is it one's 
theory of one's honour to be concerned there is an ideal 
beauty of goodness the invoked action of which is to raise 
the artistic faith to its maximum. Then truly, I hold, one's 
theme may be said to shine, and that of "The Ambassadors," I 
confess, wore this glow for me from beginning to end. Fortu- 
nately thus I am able to estimate this as, frankly, quite the best, 
"all round," of my productions; any failure of that justification 
would have made such an extreme of complacency publicly 

I recall then in this connexion no moment of subjective 
intermittence, never one of those alarms as for a suspected 
hollow beneath one's feet, a felt ingratitude in the scheme 
adopted, under which confidence fails and opportunity seems 
but to mock. If the motive of "The Wings of the Dove," 
as I have noted, was to worry me at moments by a sealing- 



up of its face though without prejudice to its again, of 
a sudden, fairly grimacing with expression so in this other 
business I had absolute conviction and constant clearness to 
deal with; it had been a frank proposition, the whole bunch 
of data, installed on my premises like a monotony of fine 
weather. (The order of composition, in these things, I may 
mention, was reversed by the order of publication; the earlier 
written of the two books having appeared as the later.) Even 
under the weight of my hero's years I could feel my postulate 
firm; even under the strain of the difference between those of 
Madame de Vionnet and those of Chad Newsome, a differ- 
ence liable to be denounced as shocking, I could still feel it 
serene. Nothing resisted, nothing betrayed, I seem to make 
out, in this full and sound sense of the matter; it shed from any 
side I could turn it to the same golden glow. I rejoiced in the 
promise of a hero so mature, who would give me thereby the 
more to bite into since it 's only into thickened motive and 
accumulated character, I think, that the painter of life bites 
more than a little. My poor friend should have accumulated 
character, certainly; or rather would be quite naturally and 
handsomely possessed of it, in the sense that he would have, 
and would always have felt he had, imagination galore, and 
that this yet would n't have wrecked him. It was immeasurable, 
the opportunity to "do" a man of imagination, for if there 
might n't be a chance to "bite," where in the world might it be? 
This personage of course, so enriched, would n't give me, for 
his type, imagination in predominance or as his prime fac- 
ulty, nor should I, in view of other matters, have found that 
convenient. So particular a luxury some occasion, that is, 
for study of the high gift in supreme command of a case or of 
a career would still doubtless come on the day I should be 
ready to pay for it; and till then might, as from far back, re- 
main hung up well in view and just out of reach. The com- 
parative case meanwhile would serve it was only on the 
minor scale that I had treated myself even to comparative cases. 



I was to hasten to add however that, happy stopgaps as 
the minor scale had thus yielded, the instance in hand should 
enjoy the advantage of the full range of the major; since 
most immediately to the point was the question of that supple- 
ment of situation logically involved in our gentleman's impulse 
to deliver himself in the Paris garden on the Sunday afternoon 
or if not involved by strict logic then all ideally and enchant- 
ingly implied in it. (I say "ideally," because I need scarce 
mention that for development, for expression of its maximum, 
my glimmering story was, at the earliest stage, to have nipped 
the thread of connexion with the possibilities of the actual re- 
ported speaker. He remains but the happiest of accidents; his 
actualities, all too definite, precluded any range of possibilities; 
it had only been his charming office to project upon that wide 
field of the artist's vision which hangs there ever in place like 
the white sheet suspended for the figures of a child's magic- 
lantern a more fantastic and more moveable shadow.) No 
privilege of the teller of tales and the handler of puppets is 
more delightful, or has more of the suspense and the thrill 
of a game of difficulty breathlessly played, than just this busi- 
ness of looking for the unseen and the occult, in a scheme 
half -grasped, by the light or, so to speak, by the clinging scent, 
of the gage already in hand. No dreadful old pursuit of the 
hidden slave with bloodhounds and the rag of association can 
ever, for "excitement," I judge, have bettered it at its best. For 
the dramatist always, by the very law of his genius, believes 
not only in a possible right issue from the rightly-conceived 
tight place; he does much more than this he believes, irre- 
sistibly, in the necessary, the precious "tightness" of the place 
(whatever the issue) on the strength of any respectable hint. 
It being thus the respectable hint that I had with such avidity 
picked up, what would be the story to which it would most 
inevitably form the centre? It is part of the charm attendant 
on such questions that the "story," with the omens true, as I 
say, puts on from this stage the authenticity of concrete ex- 


istence. It then is, essentially it begins to be, though it may 
more or less obscurely lurk; so that the point is not in the least 
what to make of it, but only, very delightfully and very damn- 
ably, where to put one's hand on it. 

In which truth resides surely much of the interest of that 
admirable mixture for salutary application which we know 
as art. Art deals with what we see, it must first contribute 
full-handed that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise 
expressed, in the garden of life which material elsewhere 
grown is stale and uneatable. But it has no sooner done this 
than it has to take account of a process from which only 
when it 's the basest of the servants of man, incurring ignomin- 
ious dismissal with no "character," does it, and whether under 
some muddled pretext of morality or on any other, pusillani- 
mously edge away. The process, that of the expression, the 
literal squeezing-out, of value is another affair with which the 
happy luck of mere finding has little to do. The joys of find- 
ing, at this stage, are pretty well over; that quest of the subject 
as a whole by "matching," as the ladies say at the shops, the 
big piece with the snippet, having ended, we assume, with a 
capture. The subject is found, and if the problem is then trans- 
ferred to the ground of what to do with it the field opens out 
for any amount of doing. This is precisely the infusion that, as 
I submit, completes the strong mixture. It is on the other 
hand the part of the business that can least be likened to the 
chase with horn and hound. It 's all a sedentary part involves 
as much ciphering, of sorts, as would merit the highest salary 
paid to a chief accountant. Not, however, that the chief ac- 
countant has n't his gleams of bliss; for the felicity, or at least 
the equilibrium, of the artist's state dwells less, surely, in the 
further delightful complications he can smuggle in than in 
those he succeeds in keeping out. He sows his seed at the risk 
of too thick a crop; wherefore yet again, like the gentlemen 
who audit ledgers, he must keep his head at any price. In con- 
sequence of all which, for the interest of the matter, I might 



seem here to have my choice of narrating my "hunt" for Lam- 
bert Strether, of describing the capture of the shadow pro- 
jected by my friend's anecdote, or of reporting on the occur- 
rences subsequent to that triumph. But I had probably best 
attempt a little to glance in each direction; since it comes to 
me again and again, over this licentious record, that one's 
bag of adventures, conceived or conceivable, has been only 
half-emptied by the mere telling of one's story. It depends 
so on what one means by that equivocal quantity. There is 
the story of one's hero, and then, thanks to the intimate con- 
nexion of things, the story of one's story itself. I blush to 
confess it, but if one 's a dramatist one *s a dramatist, and the 
latter imbroglio is liable on occasion to strike me as really the 
more objective of the two. 

The philosophy imputed to him in that beautiful outbreak, 
the hour there, amid such happy provision, striking for him, 
would have been then, on behalf of my man of imagination, to 
be logically and, as the artless craft of comedy has it, "led up" 
to; the probable course to such a goal, the goal of so conscious 
a predicament, would have in short to be finely calculated. 
Where has he come from and why has he come, what is he do- 
ing (as we Anglo-Saxons, and we only, say, in our foredoomed 
clutch of exotic aids to expression) in that galere? To answer 
these questions plausibly, to answer them as under cross-exami- 
nation in the witness-box by counsel for the prosecution, in 
other words satisfactorily to account for Strether and for his 
"peculiar tone," was to possess myself of the entire fabric. At 
the same time the clue to its whereabouts would lie in a certain 
principle of probability: he wouldn't have indulged in his 
peculiar tone without a reason; it would take a felt predicament 
or a false position to give him so ironic an accent. One had n't 
been noting "tones" all one's life without recognising when one 
heard it the voice of the false position. The dear man in the 
Paris garden was then admirably and unmistakeably in one 
which was no small point gained; what next accordingly con' 



cerned us was the determination of this identity. One tould 
only go by probabilities, but there was the advantage that the 
most general of the probabilities were virtual certainties. Pos- 
sessed of our friend's nationality, to start with, there was a gen- 
eral probability in his narrower localism; which, for that mat- 
ter, one had really but to keep under the lens for an hour to 
see it give up its secrets. He would have issued, our rueful 
worthy, from the very heart of New England at the heels of 
which matter of course a perfect train of secrets tumbled for 
me into the light. They had to be sifted and sorted, and I shall 
not reproduce the detail of that process; but unmistakeably 
they were all there, and it was but a question, auspiciously, of 
picking among them. What the "position" would infallibly be, 
and why, on his hands, it had turned "false" these inductive 
steps could only be as rapid as they were distinct. I accounted 
for everything and "everything" had by this time become the 
most promising quantity by the view that he had come to 
Paris in some state of mind which was literally undergoing, as 
a result of new and unexpected assaults and infusions, a change 
almost from hour to hour. He had come with a view that 
might have been figured by a clear green liquid, say, in a neat 
glass phial; and the liquid, once poured into the open cup of 
application, once exposed to the action of another air, had be- 
gun to turn from green to red, or whatever, and might, for all 
he knew, be on its way to purple, to black, to yellow. At the 
still wilder extremes represented perhaps, for all he could say 
to the contrary, by a variability so violent, he would at first, 
naturally, but have gazed in surprise and alarm; whereby the 
situation clearly would spring from the play of wildness and 
the development of extremes. I saw in a moment that, should 
this development proceed both with force and logic, my "story" 
would leave nothing to be desired. There is always, of course, 
for the story-teller, the irresistible determinant and the incal- 
culable advantage of his interest in the story as such; it is ever, 
obviously, overwhelmingly, the prime and precious thing (as 


other than this I have never been able to see it) ; as to which 
what makes for it, with whatever headlong energy, may be said 
to pale before the energy with which it simply makes for itself. 
It rejoices, none the less, at its best, to seem to offer itself in a 
light, to seem to know, and with the very last knowledge, what 
it's about liable as it yet is at moments to be caught by us with 
its tongue in its cheek and absolutely no warrant but its splen- 
did impudence. Let us grant then that the impudence is always 
there there, so to speak, for grace and effect and allure; there, 
above all, because the Story is just the spoiled child of art, and 
because, as we are always disappointed when the pampered 
don't "play up," we like it, to that extent, to look all its char- 
acter. It probably does so, in truth, even when we most flatter 
ourselves that we negotiate with it by treaty. 

All of which, again, is but to say that the steps, for my fable, 
placed themselves with a prompt and, as it were, functional as* 
surance an air quite as of readiness to have dispensed with 
logic had I been in fact too stupid for my clue. Never, posi- 
tively, none the less, as the links multiplied, had I felt less 
stupid than for the determination of poor Strether's errand and 
for the apprehension of his issue. These things continued to 
fall together, as by the neat action of their own weight and 
form, even while their commentator scratched his head about 
them; he easily sees now that they were always well in ad- 
vance of him. As the case completed itself he had in fact, from 
a good way behind, to catch up with them, breathless and a 
little flurried, as he best could. The false position, for our be- 
lated man of the world belated because he had endeavoured 
so long to escape being one, and now at last had really to face 
his doom the false position for him, I say, was obviously to 
have presented himself at the gate of that boundless menagerie 
primed with a moral scheme of the most approved pattern 
which was yet framed to break down on any approach to vivid 
facts; that is to any at all liberal appreciation of them. There 
would have been of course the case of the Strether prepared, 



wherever presenting himself, only to judge and to feel meanly; 
but he would have moved for me, I confess, enveloped in no 
legend whatever. The actual man's note, from the first of our 
seeing it struck, is the note of discrimination, just as his drama 
is to become, under stress, the drama of discrimination. It 
would have been his blest imagination, we have seen, that had 
already helped him to discriminate; the element that was fox 
so much of the pleasure of my cutting thick, as I have inti- 
mated, into his intellectual, into his moral substance. Yet here 
it was, at the same time, just here, that a shade for a moment 
fell across the scene. 

There was the dreadful little old tradition, one of the plati- 
tudes of the human comedy, that people's moral scheme does 
break down in Paris; that nothing is more frequently observed; 
that hundreds of thousands of more or less hypocritical or more 
or less cynical persons annually visit the place for the sake of 
the probable catastrophe, and that I came late in the day to 
work myself up about it. There was in fine the trivial associa- 
tion, one of the vulgarest in the world; but which gave me 
pause no longer, I think, simply because its vulgarity is so ad- 
vertised. The revolution performed by Strether under the in- 
fluence of the most interesting of great cities was to have noth- 
ing to do with any bStise of the imputably "tempted" state; he 
was to be thrown forward, rather, thrown quite with violence, 
upon his lifelong trick of intense reflexion: which friendly test 
indeed was to bring him out, through winding passages, 
through alternations of darkness and light, very much in Paris, 
but with the surrounding scene itself a minor matter, a mere 
symbol for more things than had been dreamt of in the phi- 
losophy of Woollett. Another surrounding scene would have 
done as well for our show could it have represented a place in 
which Strether's errand was likely to lie and his crisis to await 
him. The lively place had the great merit of sparing me prepa- 
rations; there would have been too many involved not at all 
impossibilities, only rather worrying and delaying difficulties- 



In positing elsewhere Chad Newsome's interesting relation, his 
so interesting complexity o relations. Strether's appointed 
stage, in fine, could be but Chad's most luckily selected one. 
The young man had gone in, as they say, for circumjacent 
charm; and where he would have found it, by the turn of his 
mind, most "authentic," was where his earnest friend's analysis 
would most find him; as well as where, for that matter, the 
former's whole analytic faculty would be led such a wonderful 

"The Ambassadors" had been, all conveniently, "arranged 
for"; its first appearance was from month to month, In "The 
North American Review" during 1903, and I had been open 
from far back to any pleasant provocation for ingenuity that 
might reside in one's actively adopting so as to make it, in its 
way, a small compositional law recurrent breaks and resump- 
tions. I had made up my mind here regularly to exploit and 
enjoy these often rather rude jolts having found, as I believed, 
an admirable way to it; yet every question of form and 
pressure, I easily remember, paled in the light of the major 
propriety, recognised as soon as really weighed; that of employ^ 
ing but one centre and keeping it all within my hero's com- 
pass. The thing was to be so much this worthy's intimate ad- 
venture that even the projection of his consciousness upon it 
from beginning to end without intermission or deviation would 
probably still leave a part of its value for him, and a fortiori for 
ourselves, unexpressed. I might, however, express every grain 
of it that there would be room for on condition of contriving 
a splendid particular economy. Other persons in no small 
number were to people the scene, and each with his or her 
axe to grind, his or her situation to treat, his or her coher- 
ency not to fail of, his or her relation to my leading motive, 
in a word, to establish and carry on. But Strether's sense 
of these things, and Strether's only, should avail me for 
showing them; I should know them but through his more or 
less groping knowledge of them, since his very gropings would 



figure among his most interesting motions, and a full ob- 
servance of the rich rigour I speak of would give me more of 
the effect I should be most "after" than all other possible 
observances together. It would give me a large unity, and that 
in turn would crown me with the grace to which the enlight- 
ened story-teller will at any time, for his interest, sacrifice if need 
be all other graces whatever. I refer of course to the grace of in- 
tensity, which there are ways of signally achieving and ways of 
signally missing as we see it, all round us, helplessly and 
woefully missed. Not that it is n't, on the other hand, a virtue 
eminently subject to appreciation there being no strict, no 
absolute measure of it; so that one may hear it acclaimed where 
it has quite escaped one's perception, and see it unnoticed where 
one has gratefully hailed it. After all of which I am not sure, 
either, that the immense amusement of the whole cluster of 
difficulties so arrayed may not operate, for the fond fabulist, 
when judicious not less than fond, as his best of determinants. 
That charming principle is always there, at all events, to keep 
interest fresh: it is a principle, we remember, essentially raven- 
ous, without scruple and without mercy, appeased with no 
cheap nor easy nourishment. It enjoys the costly sacrifice and 
rejoices thereby in the very odour of difficulty even as ogres, 
with their "Fee-faw-fum!" rejoice in the smell of the blood of 

Thus it was, at all events, that the ultimate, though after 
all so speedy, definition of my gentleman's job his coming 
out, all solemnly appointed and deputed, to "save" Chad, and 
his then finding the young man so disobligingly and, at first, so 
bewilderingly not lost that a new issue altogether, in the con- 
nexion, prodigiously faces them, which has to be dealt with in 
a new light promised as many calls on ingenuity and on the 
higher branches of the compositional art as one could possibly 
desire. Again and yet again, as, from book to book, I proceed 
with my survey, I find no source of interest equal to this veri- 
fication after the fact, as I may call it, and the more in detail the 


becter, of the scheme of consistency "gone in" for. As always 
since the charm never fails the retracing of the process from 
point to point brings back the old illusion. The old intentions 
bloom again and flower in spite of all the blossoms they were 
to have dropped by the way. This is the charm, as I say, of 
adventure transposed -the thrilling ups and downs, the in- 
tricate ins and outs of the compositional problem, made after 
such a fashion admirably objective, becoming the question at 
issue and keeping the author's heart in his mouth. Such an ele- 
ment, for instance, as his intention that Mrs. Newsome, away 
off with her finger on the pulse of Massachusetts, should yet be 
no less intensely than circuitously present through the whole 
thing, should be no less felt as to be reckoned with than the 
most direct exhibition, the finest portrayal at first hand could 
make her, such a sign of artistic good faith, I say, once it 's un- 
mistakeably there, takes on again an actuality not too much im- 
paired by the comparative dimness of the particular success. 
Cherished intention too inevitably acts and operates, in the 
book, about fifty times as little as I had fondly dreamt it might; 
but that scarce spoils for me the pleasure of recognising the 
fifty ways in which I had sought to provide for it. The 
mere charm of seeing such an idea constituent, in its degree; 
the fineness of the measures taken a real extension, if suc- 
cessful, of the very terms and possibilities of representation and 
figuration such things alone were, after this fashion, in- 
spiring, such things alone were a gage of the probable success 
of that dissimulated calculation with which the whole effort 
was to square. But oh the cares begotten, none the less, of that 
same "judicious" sacrifice to a particular form of interest! One's 
work should have composition, because composition alone is 
positive beauty; but all the while apart from one's inevitable 
consciousness too of the dire paucity of readers ever recognising 
or ever missing positive beauty how, as to the cheap and easy, 
at every turn, how, as to immediacy and facility, and even as 
to the commoner vivacity, positive beauty might have to he 



sweated for and paid for! Once achieved and installed it 
may always be trusted to make the poor seeker feel he would 
have blushed to the roots of his hair for failing of it; yet, 
how, as its virtue can be essentially but the virtue of the 
whole, the wayside traps set in the interest of muddlement 
and pleading but the cause of the moment, of the particu- 
lar bit in itself, have to be kicked out of the path! All the 
sophistications in life, for example, might have appeared to 
muster on behalf of the menace the menace to a bright variety 
involved in Strether's having all the subjective "say," as it 
were, to himself. 

Had I meanwhile, made him at once hero and historian, 
endowed him with the romantic privilege of the "first per- 
son" the darkest abyss of romance this, inveterately, when 
enjoyed on the grand scale variety, and many other queer 
matters as well, might have been smuggled in by a back door. 
Suffice it, to be brief, that the first person, in the long piece, is a 
form foredoomed to looseness, and that looseness, never much 
my affair, had never been so little so as on this particular occa- 
sion. All of which reflexions flocked to the standard from the 
moment a very early one the question of how to keep my 
form amusing while sticking so close to my central figure and 
constantly taking its pattern from him had to be faced. He 
arrives (arrives at Chester) as for the dreadful purpose of giv- 
ing his creator "no end" to tell about him before which rigor- 
ous mission the serenest of creators might well have quailed. 
I was far from the serenest; I was more than agitated enough 
to reflect that, grimly deprived of one alternative or one sub- 
stitute for "telling," I must address myself tooth and nail 
to another. I could n't, save by implication, make other per- 
sons tell each other about him blest resource, blest neces- 
sity, of the drama, which reaches its effects of unity, all re- 
markably, by paths absolutely opposite to the paths of the 
novel : with other persons, save as they were primarily his per- 
sons (not he primarily but one of theirs), I had simply nothing 



to do. I had relations for him none the less, by the mercy of 
Providence, quite as much as if my exhibition was to be a 
muddle; if I could only by implication and a show of conse- 
quence make other persons tell each other about him, I could at 
least make him tell them whatever in the world he must; and 
could so, by the same token which was a further luxury 
thrown in see straight into the deep differences between what 
that could do for me, or at all events for him, and the large ease 
of "autobiography." It may be asked why, if one so keeps to 
one's hero, one should n't make a single mouthful of "method," 
should n't throw the reins on his neck and, letting them flap 
there as free as in "Gil Bias" or in "David Copperfield," equip 
him with the double privilege of subject and object a course 
that has at least the merit of brushing away questions at a 
sweep. The answer to which is, I think, that one makes that 
surrender only if one is prepared not to make certain precious 

The "first person" then, so employed, is addressed by the 
author directly to ourselves, his possible readers, whom he has 
to reckon with, at the best, by our English tradition, so loosely 
and vaguely after all, so little respectfully, on so scant a pre- 
sumption of exposure to criticism. Strether, on the other hand, 
encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and 
provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiff er and more 
salutary than any our straight and credulous gape are likely to 
bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to meet, in a 
word, that forbid the terrible fluidity of self-revelation, I may 
seem not to better the case for my discrimination if I say that, 
for my first care, I had thus inevitably to set him up a con- 
fidant or two, to wave away with energy the custom of the 
seated mass of explanation after the fact, the inserted block of 
merely referential narrative, which flourishes so, to the shame 
of the modern impatience, on the serried page of Balzac, but 
which seems simply to appal our actual, our general weaker, 
digestion. "Harking back to make up" took at any rate more 


doing, as the phrase is, not only than the reader of today de- 
mands, but than he will tolerate at any price any call upon him 
either to understand or remotely to measure; and for the beauty 
of the thing when done the current editorial mind in particular 
appears wholly without sense. It is not, however, primarily for 
either of these reasons, whatever their weight, that Strether's 
friend Waymarsh is so keenly clutched at, on the threshold of 
the book, or that no less a pounce is made on Maria Gostrey 
without even the pretext, either, of her being, in essence, 
Strether's friend. She is the reader's friend much rather 
in consequence of dispositions that make him so eminently 
require one; and she acts in that capacity, and redly in that 
capacity alone, with exemplary devotion, from beginning to 
end of the book. She is an enrolled, a direct, aid to lucid- 
ity; she is in fine, to tear off her mask, the most unmiti- 
gated and abandoned of ficdles. Half the dramatist's art, as 
we well know since if we don't it's not the fault of the 
proofs that lie scattered about us is in the use of ficelles; 
by which I mean in a deep dissimulation of his dependence 
on them. Waymarsh only to a slighter degree belongs, in 
the whole business, less to my subject than to my treatment 
of it; the interesting proof, in these connexions, being that 
one has but to take one's subject for the stuff of drama 
to interweave with enthusiasm as many Gostreys as need 

The material of "The Ambassadors," conforming in this 
respect exactly to that of "The Wings of the Dove," pub- 
lished just before it, is taken absolutely for the stuff of drama; 
so that, availing myself of the opportunity given me by this edi- 
tion for some prefatory remarks on the latter work, I had 
mainly to make on its behalf the point of its scenic consistency. 
It disguises that virtue, in the oddest way in the world, by 
just looking* as we turn its pages, as little scenic as possible; but 
it sharply divides itself, just as the composition before us does, 
into the parts that prepare, that tend in fact to over-prepare, for 



scenes, and the parts, or otherwise into the scenes, that justify 
and crown the preparation. It may definitely be said, I think^ 
that everything in it that is not scene (not, I of course mean, 
complete and functional scene, treating all the submitted mat- 
ter, as by logical start, logical turn, and logical finish) is 
discriminated preparation, is the fusion and synthesis of pic- 
ture. These alternations propose themselves all recogniseably, 
I think, from an early stage, as the very form and figure of 
"The Ambassadors"; so that, to repeat, such an agent as Miss 
Gostrey, pre-engaged at a high salary, but waits in the draughty 
wing with her shawl and her smelling-salts. Her function 
speaks at once for itself, and by the time she has dined with 
Strether in London and gone to a play with him her inter- 
vention as a ficelle is, I hold, expertly justified. Thanks to it we 
have treated scenically, and scenically alone, the whole lump- 
ish question of Strether's "past," which has seen us more hap- 
pily on the way than anything else could have done; we have 
strained to a high lucidity and vivacity (or at least we hope 
we have) certain indispensable facts; we have seen our two or 
three immediate friends all conveniently and profitably in "ac- 
tion"; to say nothing of our beginning to descry others, of a 
remoter intensity, getting into motion, even if a bit vaguely 
as yet, for our further enrichment. Let my first point be here 
that the scene in question, that in which the whole situation at 
Woollett and the complex forces that have propelled my hero 
to where this lively extractor of his value and distiller of his 
essence awaits him, is normal and entire, is really an excellent 
standard scene; copious, comprehensive, and accordingly never 
short, but with its office as definite as that of the hammer on 
the gong of the clock, the office of expressing all that is in the 

The "ficelle" character of the subordinate party is as art- 
fully dissimulated, throughout, as may be, and to that extent 
that, with the seams or joints of Maria Gostrey 's ostensible 
connectedness taken particular care of, duly smoothed over, 



that is, and anxiously kept from showing as "pieced on," this 
figure doubtless achieves, after a fashion, something of the 
dignity of a prime idea: which circumstance but shows us 
afresh how many quite incalculable but none the less clear 
sources of enjoyment for the infatuated artist, how many copi- 
ous springs of our never-to-be-slighted "fun" for the reader 
and critic susceptible of contagion, may sound their incidental 
plash as soon as an artistic process begins to enjoy free develop- 
ment. Exquisite in illustration of this the mere interest and 
amusement of such at once "creative" and critical questions as 
tow and where and why to make Miss Gostrey's false con- 
nexion carry itself, under a due high polish, as a real one. 
Nowhere is it more of an artful expedient for mere consistency 
of form, to mention a case, than in the last "scene" of the book, 
where its function is to give or to add nothing whatever, but 
only to express as vividly as possible certain things quite other 
than itself and that are of the already fixed and appointed 
measure. Since, however, all art is expression, and is thereby 
vividness, one was to find the door open here to any amount 
of delightful dissimulation. These verily are the refinements 
and ecstasies of method amid which, or certainly under 
the influence of any exhilarated demonstration of which, one 
must keep one's head and not lose one's way. To cultivate 
an adequate intelligence for them and to make that sense 
operative is positively to find a charm in any produced am- 
biguity of appearance that is not by the same stroke, and 
all helplessly, an ambiguity of sense. To project imaginatively, 
for my hero, a relation that has nothing to do with the mat- 
ter (the matter of my subject) but has everything to do with 
the manner (the manner of my presentation of the same) and 
yet to treat it, at close quarters and for fully economic expres- 
sion's possible sake, as if it were important and essential 
to do that sort of thing and yet muddle nothing may easily 
become, as one goes, a signally attaching proposition; even 
though it all remains but part and parcel, I hasten to recognise, 



of the merely general and related question of expressional 
curiosity and expressional decency. 

I am moved to add after so much insistence on the scenic 
side of my labour that I have found the steps of re-perusal 
almost as much waylaid here by quite another style of effort 
in the same signal interest or have in other words not 
failed to note how, even so associated and so discriminated, 
the finest proprieties and charms of the non-scenic may, under 
the right hand for them, still keep their intelligibility and 
assert their office. Infinitely suggestive such an observation 
as this last on the whole delightful head, where representa- 
tion is concerned, of possible variety, of effective expressional 
change and contrast. One would like, at such an hour as this, 
for critical license, to go into the matter of the noted inevitable 
deviation (from too fond an original vision) that the ex- 
quisite treachery even of the straightest execution may ever be 
trusted to inflict even on the most mature plan the case being 
that, though one's last reconsidered production always seems to 
bristle with that particular evidence, "The Ambassadors," 
would place a flood of such light at my service. I must attach 
to my final remark here a different import; noting in the 
other connexion I just glanced at that such passages as that of 
my hero's first encounter with Chad Newsome, absolute attes- 
tations of the non-scenic form though they be, yet lay the firm- 
est hand too so far at least as intention goes on representa- 
tional effect. To report at all closely and completely of what 
"passes" on a given occasion is inevitably to become more 
or less scenic; and yet in the instance I allude to, with 
the conveyance, expressional curiosity and expressional de- 
cency are sought and arrived at under quite another law. 
The true inwardness of this may be at bottom but that one 
of the suffered treacheries has consisted precisely, for Chad's 
whole figure and presence, of a direct presentability dimin- 
ished and compromised despoiled, that is, of its propor- 
tional advantage; so that, in a word, the whole economy of 


his author's relation to him has at important points to be 
redetermined. The book, however, critically viewed, is touch- 
ingly full of these disguised and repaired losses, these insidious 
recoveries, these intensely redemptive consistencies. The pages 
in which Mamie Pocock gives her appointed and, I can't but 
think, duly felt lift to the whole action by the so inscrutably- 
applied side-stroke or short-cut of our just watching, and as 
quite at an angle of vision as yet untried, her single hour of 
suspense in the hotel salon, in our partaking of her concen- 
trated study of the sense of matters bearing on her own case, 
all the bright warm Paris afternoon, from the balcony that 
overlooks the Tuileries garden these are as marked an exam- 
ple of the representational virtue that insists here and there 
on being, for the charm of opposition and renewal, other than 
the scenic. It would n't take much to make me further argue 
that from an equal play of such oppositions the book gathers 
an intensity that fairly adds to the dramatic though the latter 
is supposed to be the sum of all intensities; or that has at any 
rate nothing to fear from juxtaposition with it. I consciously 
fail to shrink in fact from that extravagance I risk it, rather, 
for the sake of the moral involved; which is not that the par- 
ticular production before us exhausts the interesting questions 
it raises, but that the Novel remains still, under the right per- 
suasion, the most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of 
literary forms. 




AMONG many matters thrown into relief by a refreshed ac- 
quaintance with "The Golden Bowl" what perhaps most 
stands out for me is the still marked inveteracy of a certain 
indirect and oblique view of my presented action; unless in- 
deed I make up my mind to call this mode of treatment, on 
the contrary, any superficial appearance notwithstanding, the 
very straightest and closest possible. I have already betrayed, 
as an accepted habit, and even to extravagance commented on, 
my preference for dealing with my subject-matter, for "seeing 
my story," through the opportunity and the sensibility of some 
more or less detached, some not strictly involved, though thor- 
oughly interested and intelligent, witness or reporter, some 
person who contributes to the case mainly a certain amount of 
criticism and interpretation of it. Again and again, on re- 
view, the shorter things in especial that I have gathered into 
this Series have ranged themselves not as my own impersonal 
account of the affair in hand, but as my account of somebody's 
impression of it the terms of this person's access to it and 
estimate of it contributing thus by some fine little law to in- 
tensification of interest. The somebody is often, among my 
shorter tales I recognise, but an unnamed, unintroduced and 
(save by right of intrinsic wit) unwarranted participant, the 
impersonal author's concrete deputy or delegate, a convenient 
substitute or apologist for the creative power otherwise so 
veiled and disembodied. My instinct appears repeatedly to have 
been that to arrive at the facts retailed and the figures intro- 


duced by the given help of some other conscious and con- 
fessed agent is essentially to find the whole business that 
is, as I say, its effective interest enriched by the way. I 
have in other words constantly inclined to the idea of the 
particular attaching case plus some near individual view of 
it; that nearness quite having thus to become an imagined 
observer's, a projected, charmed painter's or poet's however 
avowed the "minor" quality in the latter close and sensi- 
tive contact with it. Anything, in short, I now reflect, must 
always have seemed to me better better for the process and 
the effect of representation, my irrepressible ideal than the 
mere muffled majesty of irresponsible "authorship." Beset con- 
stantly with the sense that the painter of the picture or the 
chanter of the ballad (whatever we may call him) can never 
be responsible enough, and for every inch of his surface and 
note of his song, I track my uncontrollable footsteps, right and 
left, after the fact, while they take their quick turn, even on 
stealthiest tiptoe, toward the point of view that, within the 
compass, will give me most instead of least to answer for. 

I am aware of having glanced a good deal already in the 
direction of this embarrassed truth which I give for what 
it is worth; but I feel it come home to me afresh on rec- 
ognising that the manner in which it betrays itself may be 
one of the liveliest sources of amusement in "The Golden 
Bowl." It 's not that the muffled majesty of authorship does n't 
here ostensibly reign; but I catch myself again shaking it off 
and disavowing the pretence of it while I get down into 
the arena and do my best to live and breathe and rub 
shoulders and converse with the persons engaged in the 
struggle that provides for the others in the circling tiers the 
entertainment of the great game. There is no other parti- 
cipant, of course, than each of the real, the deeply involved 
and immersed and more or less bleeding participants; but I 
nevertheless affect myself as having held my system fast and 
fondly, with one hand at least, by the manner in which the 



whole thing remains subject to the register, ever so closely 
kept, of the consciousness of but two of the characters. The 
Prince, in the first half of the book, virtually sees and knows 
and makes out, virtually represents to himself everything that 
concerns us very nearly (though he doesn't speak in the 
first person) after the fashion of other reporters and critics of 
other situations. Having a consciousness highly susceptible of 
registration, he thus makes us see the things that may most 
interest us reflected in it as in the clean glass held up to so 
many of the "short stories" of our long list; and yet after all 
never a whit to the prejudice of his being just as consistently a 
foredoomed, entangled, embarrassed agent in the general im- 
broglio, actor in the offered play. The function of the Princess, 
in the remainder, matches exactly with his; the register of her 
consciousness is as closely kept as closely, say, not only as his 
own, but as that (to cite examples) either of the intelligent but 
quite unindividualised witness of the destruction of "The 
Aspern Papers," or of the all-noting heroine of "The Spoils of 
Poynton," highly individualised though highly intelligent; the 
Princess, in fine, in addition to feeling everything she has to, 
and to playing her part just in that proportion, duplicates, 
as it were, her value and becomes a compositional resource, 
and of the finest order, as well as a value intrinsic. So it is 
that the admirably-endowed pair, between them, as I retrace 
their fortune and my own method, point again for me the 
moral of the endless interest, endless worth for "delight," 
of the compositional contribution. Their chronicle strikes 
me as quite of the stuff to keep us from forgetting that ab- 
solutely no refinement of ingenuity or of precaution need be 
dreamed of as wasted in that most exquisite of all good causes 
the appeal to variety, the appeal to incalculability, the appeal to 
a high refinement and a handsome wholeness of effect. 

There are other things I might remark here, despite its 
perhaps seeming a general connexion that I have elsewhere 
sufficiently shown as suggestive; but I have other matter 



in hand and I take a moment only to meet a possible ob- 
jection should any reader be so far solicitous or even attentive 
to what I have just said. It may be noted, that is, that the 
Prince, in the volume over which he nominally presides, is rep- 
resented as in comprehensive cognition only of those aspects as 
to which Mrs. Assingham doesn't functionally- perhaps all 
too officiously, as the reader may sometimes feel it super- 
sede him. This disparity in my plan is, however, but super- 
ficial; the thing abides rigidly by its law of showing Mag- 
gie Verver at first through her suitor's and her husband's 
exhibitory vision of her, and of then showing the Prince, 
with at least an equal intensity, through his wife's; the ad- 
vantage thus being that these attributions of experience dis- 
play the sentient subjects themselves at the same time and by 
the same stroke with the nearest possible approach to a de- 
sirable vividness. It is the Prince who opens the door to half 
our light upon Maggie, just as it is she who opens it to half 
our light upon himself; the rest of our impression, in either 
case, coming straight from the very motion with which that 
act is performed. We see Charlotte also at first, and we see 
Adam Verver, let alone our seeing Mrs. Assingham, and every 
one and every thing else, but as they are visible in the 
Prince's interest, so to speak by which I mean of course in 
the interest of his being himself handed over to us. With a 
like consistency we see the same persons and things again 
but as Maggie's interest, her exhibitional charm, determines the 
view. In making which remark, with its apparently so limited 
enumeration of my elements, I naturally am brought up against 
the fact of the fundamental fewness of these latter of the 
fact that my large demand is made for a group of agents who 
may be counted on the fingers of one hand. We see very few 
persons in "The Golden Bowl," but the scheme of the book, 
to make up for that, is that we shall really see about as much 
of them as a coherent literary form permits. That was my 
problem, so to speak, and my gageure to play the small hand* 



ful of values really for all they were worth and to work my 
system, my particular propriety of appeal, particular degree of 
pressure on the spring of interest, for all that this specific in- 
genuity itself might be. To have a scheme and a view of its 
dignity is of course congruously to work it out, and the 
"amusement" of the chronicle in question by which, once 
more, I always mean the gathered cluster of all the tynds of 
interest was exactly to see what a consummate application of 
such sincerities would give. 

So much for some only of the suggestions of re-perusal here 
since, all the while, I feel myself awaited by a pair of ap- 
peals really more pressing than either of those just met; a 
minor and a major appeal, as I may call them: the former 
of which I take first. I have so thoroughly "gone into" things, 
in an expository way, on the ground covered by this collection 
of my writings, that I should still judge it superficial to have 
spoken no word for so salient a feature of our Edition as the 
couple of dozen decorative "illustrations." This series of 
frontispieces contribute less to ornament, I recognise, than if 
Mr. Alvin Langdon Cob urn's beautiful photographs, which 
they reproduce, had had to suffer less reduction; but of those 
that have suffered least the beauty, to my sense, remains great, 
and I indulge at any rate in this glance at our general inten- 
tion for the sake of the small page of history thereby added 
to my already voluminous, yet on the whole so unabashed, 
memoranda. I should in fact be tempted here, but for lack 
of space, by the very question itself at large that question of 
the general acceptability of illustration coming up sooner or 
later, in these days, for the author of any text putting forward 
illustrative claims (that is producing an effect of illustration) 
by its own intrinsic virtue and so finding itself elbowed, on 
that ground, by another and a competitive process. The es- 
sence of any representational work is of course to bristle with 
immediate images; and I, for one, should have looked much 
askance at the proposal, on the part of my associates in the 



whole business, to graft or "grow," at whatever point, a picture 
by another hand on my own picture this being always, to 
my sense, a lawless incident. Which remark reflects heavily, 
o course, on the "picture-book" quality that contemporary 
English and American prose appears more and more destined, 
by the conditions of publication, to consent, however grudg- 
ingly, to see imputed to it. But a moment's thought points the 
moral of the danger. 

Anything that relieves responsible prose of the duty of 
being, while placed before us, good enough, interesting enough 
and, if the question be of picture, pictorial enough, above 
all in itself, does it the worst of services, and may well in- 
spire in the lover of literature certain lively questions as to 
the future of that institution. That one should, as an author, 
reduce one's reader, "artistically" inclined, to such a state 
of hallucination by the images one has evoked as doesn't 
permit him to rest till he has noted or recorded them, set up 
some semblance of them in his own other medium, by his 
own other art nothing could better consort than that, I 
naturally allow, with the desire or the pretension to cast a 
literary spell. Charming, that is, for the projector and cre- 
ator of figures and scenes that are as nought from the mo- 
ment they fail to become more or less visible appearances, 
charming for this manipulator of aspects to see such power 
as he may possess approved and registered by the springing 
of such fruit from his seed. His own garden, however, re- 
mains one thing, and the garden he has prompted the cul- 
tivation of at other hands becomes quite another; which means 
that the frame of one's own work no more provides place for 
such a plot than we expect flesh and fish to be served on the 
same platter. One welcomes illustration, in other words, with 
pride and joy; but also with the emphatic view that, might 
one's "literary jealousy" be duly deferred to, it would quite 
stand off and on its own feet and thus, as a separate and inde- 
pendent subject of publication, carrying its text in its spirit, 



just as that text correspondingly carries the plastic possibility., 
become a still more glorious tribute. So far my invidious dis- 
tinction between the writer's "frame" and the draughtsman's; 
and if in spite of it I could still make place for the idea of a 
contribution of value by Mr. A. L. Coburn to each of these 
volumes and a contribution in as different a "medium" as 
possible this was just because the proposed photographic 
studies were to seek the way, which they have happily found, 
I think, not to keep, or to pretend to keep, anything like dra- 
matic step with their suggestive matter. This would quite have 
disqualified them, to my rigour; but they were "all right," in 
the so analytic modern critical phrase, through their discreetly 
disavowing emulation. Nothing in fact could more have 
amused the author than the opportunity of a hunt for a series 
of reproducible subjects such moreover as might best consort 
with photography the reference of which to Novel or Tale 
should exactly be not competitive and obvious, should on the 
contrary plead its case with some shyness, that of images 
always confessing themselves mere optical symbols or echoes, 
expressions of no particular thing in the text, but only of 
the type or idea of this or that thing. They were to remain 
at the most small pictures of our "set" stage with the actors 
left out; and what was above all interesting was that they 
were first to be constituted. 

This involved an amusing search which I would fain more 
fully commemorate; since it took, to a great degree, and 
rather unexpectedly and incalculably, the vastly, though but 
incidentally, instructive form of an enquiry into the street- 
scenery of London; a field yielding a ripe harvest of treas- 
ure from the moment I held up to it, in my fellow artist's 
company, the light of our fond idea the idea, that is, of 
the aspect of things or the combination of objects that might, 
by a latent virtue in it, speak for its connexion with some- 
thing in the book, and yet at the same time speak enough 
for its odd or interesting self. It will be noticed that our 



series o frontispieces, while doing all justice to our need, 
largely consists in a "rendering" of certain inanimate char- 
acteristics of London streets; the ability of which to suf- 
fice to this furnishing forth of my Volumes ministered alike 
to surprise and convenience. Even at the cost of inconsist- 
ency of attitude in the matter of the "grafted" image, I 
should have been tempted, I confess, by the mere pleasure 
of exploration, abounding as the business at once began 
to do in those prizes of curiosity for which the London- 
lover is at any time ready to "back" the prodigious city. 
It wasn't always that I straightway found, with my fellow 
searcher, what we were looking for, but that the looking 
itself so often flooded with light the question of what a "sub- 
ject," what "character," what a saving sense in things, is 
and isn't; and that when our quest was rewarded, it was, 
I make bold to say, rewarded in perfection. On the question, 
for instance, of the proper preliminary compliment to the 
first volume of "The Golden Bowl" we easily felt that nothing 
would so serve as a view of the small shop in which the 
Bowl is first encountered. 

The problem thus was thrilling, for though the small shop 
was but a shop of the mind, of the author's projected world, 
in which objects are primarily related to each other, and there- 
fore not "taken from" a particular establishment anywhere, 
only an image distilled and intensified, as it were, from a drop 
of the essence of such establishments in general, our need (since 
the picture was, as I have said, also completely to speak for it- 
self) prescribed a concrete, independent, vivid instance, the 
instance that should oblige us by the marvel of an accidental 
rightness. It might so easily be wrong by the act of being at 
all. It would have to be in the first place what London and 
chance and an extreme improbability should have made it, 
and then it would have to let us truthfully read into it the 
Prince's and Charlotte's and the Princess's visits. It of course 
on these terms long evaded us, but all the while really with- 



out prejudice to our fond confidence that, as London ends by 
giving one absolutely everything one asks, so it awaited us 
somewhere. It awaited us in fact but I check myself; nothing, 
I find now, would induce me to say where. Just so, to conclude, 
it was equally obvious that for the second volume of the same 
fiction nothing would so nobly serve as some generalised vision 
of Portland Place. Both our limit and the very extent of our 
occasion, however, lay in the fact that, unlike wanton designers, 
we had, not to "create" but simply to recognise recognise, 
that is, with the last fineness. The thing was to induce the 
vision of Portland Place to generalise itself. This is precisely, 
however, the fashion after which the prodigious city, as I have 
called it, does on occasion meet halfway those forms of intelli- 
gence of it that it recognises. All of which meant that at a given 
moment the great featureless Philistine vista would itself per- 
form a miracle, would become interesting, for a splendid at- 
mospheric hour, as only London knows how; and that our 
business would be then to understand. But my record of that 
lesson takes me too far. 

So much for some only of the suggestions of re-perusal, 
and some of those of re-representation here, since, all the 
while, I feel myself awaited by an occasion more urgent than 
any of these. To re-read in their order my final things, all 
of comparatively recent date, has been to become aware of 
my putting the process through, for the latter end of my 
series (as well as, throughout, for most of its later constituents) 
quite in the same terms as the apparent and actual, the contem- 
porary terms; to become aware in other words that the march 
of my present attention coincides sufficiently with the march 
of my original expression; that my apprehension fits, more 
concretely stated, without an effort or a struggle, certainly with- 
out bewilderment or anguish, into the innumerable places 
prepared for it. As the historian of the matter sees and speaks, 
so my intelligence of it, as a reader, meets him halfway, passive, 
receptive, appreciative, often even grateful; unconscious, quite 



blissfully, o any bar to intercourse, any disparity of sense be- 
tween us. Into his very footprints the responsive, the imagina- 
tive steps of the docile reader that I consentingly become for 
him all comfortably sink; his vision, superimposed on my own 
as an image in cut paper is applied to a sharp shadow on a 
wall, matches, at every point, without excess or deficiency. 
This truth throws into relief for me the very different dance 
that the taking in hand of my earlier productions was to lead 
me; the quite other kind of consciousness proceeding from 
that return. Nothing in my whole renewal of attention to these 
things, to almost any instance of my work previous to some 
dozen years ago, was more evident than that no such active, 
appreciative process could take place on the mere palpable lines 
of expression thanks to the so frequent lapse of harmony be- 
tween my present mode of motion and that to which the exist- 
ing footprints were due. It was, all sensibly, as if the clear 
matter being still there, even as a shining expanse of snow 
spread over a plain, my exploring tread, for application to it, 
had quite unlearned the old pace and found itself naturally 
falling into another, which might sometimes indeed more or 
less agree with the original tracks, but might most often, or 
very nearly, break the surface in other places. What was thus 
predominantly interesting to note, at all events, was the high 
spontaneity of these deviations and differences, which became 
thus things not of choice, but of immediate and perfect neces- 
sity: necessity to the end of dealing with the quantities in 
question at all. 

No march, accordingly, I was soon enough aware, could 
possibly be more confident and free than this infinitely inter- 
esting and amusing act of re-appropriation; shaking off all 
shackles of theory, unattended, as was speedily to appear, with 
humiliating uncertainties, and almost as enlivening, or at least 
as momentous, as, to a philosophic mind, a sudden large appre- 
hension of the Absolute. What indeed could be more de- 
lightful than to enjoy a sense of the absolute in such easy 



conditions? The deviations and differences might of course 
not have broken out at all, but from the moment they began 
so naturally to multiply they became, as I say, my very terms 
of cognition. The question of the "revision" of existing work 
had loomed large for me, had seemed even at moments to 
bristle with difficulties; but that phase of anxiety, I was re- 
joicingly to learn, belonged all but to the state of postponed 
experience or to that of a prolonged and fatalistic indiffer- 
ence. Since to get and to keep finished and dismissed work 
well behind one, and to have as little to say to it and about it 
as possible, had been for years one's only law, so, during that 
flat interregnum, involving, as who should say, the very culti- 
vation of unacquaintedness, creeping superstitions as to what 
it might really have been had time to grow up and flourish. 
Not least among these rioted doubtless the fond fear that any 
tidying-up of the uncanny brood, any removal of accumulated 
dust, any washing of wizened faces, or straightening of griz- 
zled locks, or twitching, to a better effect, of superannuated 
garments, might let one in, as the phrase is, for expensive 
renovations. I make use here of the figure of age and infirmity, 
but in point of fact I had rather viewed the reappearance of the 
first-born of my progeny a reappearance unimaginable save 
to some inheritance of brighter and more congruous material 
form, of stored-up braveries of type and margin and ample 
page, of general dignity and attitude, than had mostly waited 
on their respective casual cradles as a descent of awkward 
infants from the nursery to the drawing-room under the kind 
appeal of enquiring, of possibly interested, visitors. I had ac- 
cordingly taken for granted die common decencies of such 
a case the responsible glance of some power above from one 
nursling to another, the rapid flash of an anxious needle, the 
not imperceptible effect of a certain audible splash of soap-and- 
water; all in consideration of the searching radiance of draw- 
ing-room lamps as compared with nursery candles. But it had 
been all the while present to me that from the moment a stitch 



should be taken or a hair-brush applied the principle of my 
making my brood more presentable under the nobler illumi- 
nation would be accepted and established, and it was there 
complications might await me. I am afraid I had at stray mo- 
ments wasted time in wondering what discrimination against 
the freedom of the needle and the sponge would be able to 
describe itself as not arbitrary. For it to confess to that taint 
would be of course to write itself detestable. 

"Hands off altogether on the nurse's part!" was, as a merely 
barbarous injunction, strictly conceivable; but only in the 
light of the truth that it had never taken effect in any fair and 
stately, in any not vulgarly irresponsible re-issue of anything. 
Therefore it was easy to see that any such apologetic suppres- 
sion as that of the "altogether," any such admission as that of 
a single dab of the soap, left the door very much ajar. Any 
request that an indulgent objector to drawing-room discipline, 
to the purification, in other words, of innocent childhood, 
should kindly measure out then the appropriate amount of 
ablutional fluid for the whole case, would, on twenty grounds, 
indubitably leave that invoked judge gaping. I had none the 
less, I repeat, at muddled moments, seemed to see myself con- 
fusedly invoke him; thanks to my but too naturally not being 
able to forecast the perfect grace with which an answer to all 
my questions was meanwhile awaiting me. To expose the case 
frankly to a test in other words to begin to re-read was at 
once to get nearer all its elements and so, as by the next felicity, 
feel it purged of every doubt. It was the nervous postpone- 
ment of that respectful approach that I spoke of just now as, 
in the connexion, my waste of time. This felt awkwardness 
sprang, as I was at a given moment to perceive, from my 
too abject acceptance of the grand air with which the term 
Revision had somehow, to my imagination, carried itself 
and from my frivolous failure to analyse the content of the 
word. To revise is to see, or to look over, again which means 
in the case of a written thing neither more nor less than to re- 



read it. I had attached to it, in a brooding spirit, the idea of 
re-writing with which it was to have in the event., for my 
conscious play of mind, almost nothing in common, I had 
thought of re-writing as so difficult, and even so absurd, as to be 
impossible having also indeed, for that matter, thought of 
re-reading in the same light. But the felicity under the test 
was that where I had thus ruefully prefigured two efforts there 
proved to be but one and this an effort but at the first blush. 
What re-writing might be was to remain it has remained for 
me to this hour a mystery. On the other hand the act of 
revision, the act of seeing it again, caused whatever I looked 
at on any page to flower before me as into the only terms that 
honourably expressed it; and the "revised" element in the pres- 
ent Edition is accordingly these terms, these rigid conditions 
of re-persual, registered; so many close notes, as who should say, 
on the particular vision of the matter itself that experience had 
at last made the only possible one. 

What it would be really interesting, and I dare say admir- 
ably difficult, to go into would be the very history of this effect 
of experience; the history, in other words, of the growth of the 
immense array of terms, perceptional and expressional, that, 
after the fashion I have indicated, in sentence, passage and 
page, simply looked over the heads of the standing terms or 
perhaps rather, like alert winged creatures, perched on those 
diminished summits and aspired to a clearer air. What it 
comes back to, for the maturer mind granting of course, to 
begin with, a mind accessible to questions of such an order 
is this attaching speculative interest of the matter, or in vulgar 
parlance the inordinate intellectual "sport" of it: the how and 
the whence and the why these intenser lights of experience 
come into being and insist on shining. The interest of the 
question is attaching, as I say, because really half the artist's 
life seems involved in it or doubtless, to speak more justly, the 
whole of his life intellectual. The "old" matter is there, re- 
accepted, re-tasted, exquisitely re-assimilated and re-enjoyed 



believed in, to be brief, with the same "old" grateful faith 
(since wherever the faith, in a particular case, has become 
aware of a twinge of doubt I have simply concluded against 
the matter itself and left it out) ; yet for due testimony, for 
re-assertion of value, perforating as by some strange and fine, 
some latent and gathered force, a myriad more adequate chan- 
nels. It is over the fact of such a phenomenon and its so pos- 
sibly rich little history that I am moved just fondly to linger 
and for the reason I glanced at above, that to do so is in a 
manner to retrace the whole growth of one's "taste," as our 
fathers used to say: a blessed comprehensive name for many 
of the things deepest in us. The "taste" of the poet is, at bot- 
tom and so far as the poet in him prevails over everything 
else, his active sense of life: in accordance with which truth to 
keep one's hand on it is to hold the silver clue to the whole 
labyrinth of his consciousness. He feels this himself, good man 
he recognises an attached importance whenever he feels 
that consciousness bristle with the notes, as I have called them,, 
of consenting re-perusal; as has again and again publicly be- 
fallen him, to our no small edification, on occasions within 
recent view. It has befallen him most frequently, I recognise, 
when the supersessive terms of his expression have happened 
to be verse; but that does n't in the least isolate his case, since 
it is clear to the most limited intelligence that the title we give 
him is the only title of general application and convenience for 
those who passionately cultivate the image of life and the art, 
on the whole so beneficial, of projecting it. The seer and 
speaker under the descent of the god is the "poet," whatever his 
form, and he ceases to be one only when his form, whatever 
else it may nominally or superficially or vulgarly be, is un- 
worthy of the god: in which event, we promptly submit, he 
is n't worth talking of at all. He becomes so worth it, and the 
god so adopts him, and so confirms his charming office and 
name, in the degree in which his impulse and passion are 
general and comprehensive a definitional provision for them 



that makes but a mouthful of so minor a distinction, in the 
fields of light, as that between verse and prose. 

The circumstance that the poets then, and the more charm- 
ing ones, have in a number of instances, with existing mat- 
ter in hand, "registered" their renewals of vision, attests quite 
enough the attraction deeply working whenever the mind 
is, as I have said, accessible accessible, that is, to the finer 
appeal of accumulated "good stuff" and to the interest of tak- 
ing it in hand at all. For myself, I am prompted to note, the 
"taking'* has been to my consciousness, through the whole 
procession of this re-issue, the least part of the affair: under the 
first touch of the spring my hands were to feel themselves full; 
so much more did it become a question, on the part of the 
accumulated good stuff, of seeming insistently to give and give, 
I have alluded indeed to certain lapses of that munificence- 
or at least to certain connexions in which I found myself de- 
clining to receive again on any terms; but for the rest the sense 
of receiving has borne me company without a break; a luxury 
making for its sole condition that I should intelligently attend. 
The blest good stuff, sitting up, in its myriad forms, so touch- 
ingly responsive to new care of any sort whatever, seemed to 
pass with me a delightful bargain, and in the fewest possible 
words. "Actively believe in us and then you 11 see!" it was n't 
more complicated than that, and yet was to become as thrilling 
as if conditioned on depth within depth. I saw therefore what 
I saw, and what these numerous pages record, I trust, with 
clearness; though one element of fascination tended all the 
while to rule the business a fascination, at each stage of my 
journey, on the noted score of that so shifting and uneven char- 
acter of the tracks of my original passage. This by itself intro- 
duced the charm of suspense: what would the operative terms, 
in the given case, prove, under criticism, to have been a series 
of waiting satisfactions or an array of waiting misfits? The 
misfits had but to be positive and concordant, in the special 
intenser light, to represent together (as the two sides of a 


coin show different legends) just so many effective felicities and 
substitutes. But I couldn't at all, in general, forecast these 
chances and changes and proportions; they could but show for 
what they were as I went; criticism after the fact was to find in 
them arrests and surprises, emotions alike of disappointment 
and of elation: all of which means, obviously, that the whole 
thing was a living affair. 

The rate at which new readings, new conductors of sense 
interposed, to make any total sense at all right, became, to 
this wonderful tune, the very record and mirror of the gen- 
eral adventure of one's intelligence; so that one at all times 
quite marvelled at the fair reach, the very length of arm, of 
such a developed difference of measure as to what might and 
what might n't constitute, all round, a due decency of "ren- 
dering." What I have been most aware of asking myself, 
however, is how writers, on such occasions of "revision," ar- 
rive at that successful resistance to the confident assault of the 
new reading which appears in the great majority of examples 
to have marked their course. The term that superlatively, 
that finally "renders," is a flower that blooms by a beautiful 
law of its own (the fiftieth part of a second often so sufficing it) 
in the very heart of the gathered sheaf; it is there already, at 
any moment, almost before one can either miss or suspect it- 
so that ia short we shall never guess, I think, the working 
secret of the revisionist for whom its colour and scent stir the 
air but as immediately to be assimilated. Failing our divina- 
tion, too, we shall apparently not otherwise learn, for the sim- 
ple reason that no revisionist I can recall has ever been com- 
municative. 'Teople don't do such things," we remember to 
have heard it, in this connexion, declared; in other words they 
don't really re-readno, not redly; at least they do so to the 
effect either of seeing the buried, the latent life of a past com- 
position vibrate, at renewal of touch, into no activity and break 
through its settled and "sunk" surface at no point whatever 
on which conclusion, I hasten to add, the situation remains 



simple and their responsibility may lie down beside their work 
even as the lion beside the lamb; or else they have in advance 
and on system stopped their ears, their eyes and even their very 
noses. This latter heroic policy I find myself glancing at, 
however, to wonder in what particular cases failing, as I 
say, all the really confessed it can have been applied. The 
actual non-revisionists (on any terms) are of course numer- 
ous enough, and with plenty to say for themselves ; their faith, 
clearly, is great, their lot serene and their peace, above all, 
equally protected and undisturbed. But the tantalising image 
of the revisionist who is n't one, the partial, the piecemeal re- 
visionist, inconsequent and insincere, this obscure and de- 
cidedly louche personage hovers before me mainly, I think, 
but to challenge my belief. Where have we met him, when 
it comes to that, in the walks of interesting prose literature, and 
why assume that we have to believe in him before we are 
absolutely forced? 

If I turn for relief and contrast to some image of his op- 
posite I at once encounter it, and with a completeness that 
leaves nothing to be desired, on any "old" ground, in presence 
of any "old" life, in the vast example of Balzac. He (and these 
things, as we know, grew behind him at an extraordinary rate) 
re-assaulted by supersessive terms, re-penetrated by finer chan- 
nels, never had on the one hand seen or said all or had on the 
other ceased to press forward. His case has equal mass and 
authority and beneath its protecting shade, at any rate, I move 
for the brief remainder of these remarks. We owe to the never- 
extinct operation of his sensibility, we have but meanwhile to 
recall, our greatest exhibition of felt finalities, our richest and 
hugest inheritance of imaginative prose. That by itself might 
intensify for rne the interest of this general question of the re- 
viving and reacting vision did n't my very own lucky experi- 
ence, all so publicly incurred, give me, as my reader may easily 
make out, quite enough to think of. I almost lose myself, it may 
perhaps seem, to him, in that obscure quantity; obscure doubt- 



less because of its consisting of the manifold delicate things, 
the shy and illusive, the inscrutable, the indefinable, that min- 
ister to deep and quite confident processes of change. It is 
enough, in any event, to be both beguiled and mystified by 
evolutions so near home, without sounding strange and prob- 
ably even more abysmal waters. Since, however, an agree- 
able flurry and an imperfect presence of mind might, on the 
former ground, still be such a source of refreshment, so the 
constant refrain humming through the agitation, "If only 
one could re-write, if only one could do better justice to the 
patches of crude surface, the poor morsels of consciously- 
decent matter that catch one's eye with their rueful reproach 
for old stupidities of touch!" so that yearning reflexion, I 
say, was to have its superlative as well as its positive moments. 
It was to reach its maximum, no doubt, over many of the 
sorry businesses of "The American," for instance, where, 
given the elements and the essence, the long-stored grievance 
of the subject bristling with a sense of over-prolonged ex- 
posure in a garment misfitted, a garment cheaply embroidered 
and unworthy of it, thereby most proportionately sounded 
their plaint. This sharpness of appeal, the claim for exem- 
plary damages, or at least for poetic justice, was reduced to 
nothing, on the other hand, in presence of the altogether 
better literary manners of "The Ambassadors" and "The 
Golden Bowl" a list I might much extend by the mention 
of several shorter pieces. 

Inevitably, in such a case as that of "The American," and 
scarce less indeed in those of "The Portrait of a Lady" and 
"The Princess Casamassima," each of these efforts so redolent 
of good intentions baffled by a treacherous vehicle, an expert- 
ness too retarded, I could but dream the whole thing over as I 
went as I read; and, bathing it, so to speak, in that medium, 
hope that, some still newer and shrewder critic's intelligence 
subtly operating, I should n't have breathed upon the old catas- 
trophes and accidents, the old wounds and mutilations and 



disfigurements, wholly in vain. The same is true of the possible 
effect of this process of re-dreaming on many of these gathered 
compositions, shorter and longer; I have prayed that the finer 
air of the better form may sufficiently seem to hang about them 
and gild them over at least for readers, however few, at all 
curious of questions of air and form. Nothing even at this 
point, and in these quite final remarks, I confess, could strike 
me as more pertinent than with a great wealth of margin- 
to attempt to scatter here a few gleams of the light in which 
some of my visions have all sturdily and complacently repeated 
and others have, according to their kind and law, all joyously 
and blushingly renewed themselves. These have doubtless both 
been ways of remaining unshamed; though, for myself, on the 
whole, as I seem to make out, the interest of the watched re- 
newal has been livelier than that of the accepted repetition. 
What has the affair been at the worst, I am most moved to ask, 
but an earnest invitation to the reader to dream again in my 
company and in the interest of his own larger absorption of 
my sense? The prime consequence on one's own part of re- 
perusal is a sense for ever so many more of the shining silver 
fish afloat in the deep sea of one's endeavour than the net of 
widest casting could pretend to gather in; an author's common 
courtesy dictating thus the best general course for making that 
'sense contagious so beautifully tangled a web, when not so 
glorious a crown, does he weave by having at heart, and by 
cherishing there, the confidence he has invited or imagined. 
There is then absolutely no release to his pledged honour on the 
question of repaying that confidence. 

The ideally handsome way is for him to multiply in any 
given connexion all the possible sources of entertainment or, 
more grossly expressing it again, to intensify his whole chance 
of pleasure. (It all comes back to that, to my and your "fun" 
if we but allow the term its full extension; to the production of 
which no humblest question involved, even to that of the shade 
of a cadence or the position of a comma, is not richly pertinent.) 



We have but to think a moment of such a matter as the play 
of representational values, those that make it a part, and an 
important part, of our taking offered things in that we should 
take them as aspects and visibilities take them to the utmost 
as appearances, images, figures, objects, so many important, so 
many contributive items of the furniture of the world in order 
to feel immediately the effect of such a condition at every turn 
of our adventure and every point of the representative surface. 
One has but to open the door to any forces of exhibition at all 
worthy of the name in order to see the imaging and qualifying 
agency called at once into play and put on its mettle. We may 
traverse acres of pretended exhibitory prose from which the 
touch that directly evokes and finely presents, the touch that 
operates for closeness and for charm, for conviction and illu- 
sion, for communication, in a word, is unsurpassably absent. 
All of which but means of course that the reader is, in the com- 
mon phrase, "sold" even when, poor passive spirit, system- 
atically bewildered and bamboozled on the article of his dues, 
he may be but dimly aware of it. He has by the same token and 
for the most part, I fear, a scarce quicker sensibility on other 
heads, least of all perhaps on such a matter as his really quite 
swindled state when the pledge given for his true beguilement 
fails to ensure him that fullest experience of his pleasure which 
waits but on a direct reading out of the addressed appeal. It is 
scarce necessary to note that the highest test of any literary 
form conceived in the light of "poetry" to apply that term in 
its largest literary sense hangs back unpardonably from its 
office when it fails to lend itself to vivti-voce treatment. We talk 
here, naturally, not of non-poetic forms, but of those whose 
highest bid is addressed to the imagination, to the spiritual 
and the aesthetic vision, the mind led captive by a charm and 
a spell, an incalculable art. The essential property of such a 
form as that is to give out its finest and most numerous secrets, 
and to give them out most gratefully, under the closest pres- 
sure which is of course the pressure of the attention articu- 



lately sounded. Let it reward as much as it will and can the 
soundless, the "quiet" reading, it still deplorably "muffs" its 
chance and its success, still trifles with the roused appetite to 
which it can never honestly be indifferent, by not having so ar- 
ranged itself as to owe the flower of its effect to the act and 
process of apprehension that so beautifully asks most from it. 
It then infallibly, and not less beautifully, most responds; for I 
have nowhere found vindicated the queer thesis that the right 
values of interesting prose depend all on withheld tests that 
is on its being, for very pity and shame, but skimmed and 
scanted, shuffled and mumbled. Gustave Flaubert has some- 
where in this connexion an excellent word to the effect that 
any imaged prose that fails to be richly rewarding in return for 
a competent utterance ranks itself as wrong through not being 
"in the conditions of life." The more we remain in them, all 
round, the more pleasure we dispense; the moral of which is 
and there would be fifty other pertinent things to say about 
this that I have found revision intensify at every step my im- 
pulse intimately to answer, by my light, to those conditions. 
All of which amounts doubtless but to saying that as the 
whole conduct of life consists of things done, which do other 
things in their turn, just so our behaviour and its fruits are 
essentially one and continuous and persistent and unquench- 
able, so the act has its way of abiding and showing and testify- 
ing, and so, among our innumerable acts, are no arbitrary, no 
senseless separations. The more we are capable of acting the 
less gropingly we plead such differences; whereby, with any 
capability, we recognise betimes that to "put" things is very 
exactly and responsibly and interminably to do them. Our ex- 
pression of them, and the terms on which we understand that, 
belong as nearly to our conduct and our life as every other fea- 
ture of our freedom; these things yield in fact some of its most 
exquisite material to the religion of doing. More than that, our 
literary deeds enjoy this marked advantage over many o our 
acts, that, though they go forth into the world and stray even 



in the desert, they don't to the same extent lose themselves; 
their attachment and reference to us, however strained, need 
n't necessarily lapse while of the tie that binds us to them we 
may make almost anything we like. We are condemned, in 
other words., whether we will or no, to abandon and outlive, to 
forget and disown and hand over to desolation, many vital or 
social performances if only because the traces, records, con- 
nexions, the very memorials we would fain preserve, are prac- 
tically impossible to rescue for that purpose from the general 
mixture. We give them up even when we would n't it is not 
a question of choice. Not so on the other hand our really 
"done" things of this superior and more appreciable order 
which leave us indeed all licence of disconnexion and dis- 
avowal, but positively impose on us no such necessity. Our re- 
lation to them is essentially traceable, and in that fact abides, 
we feel, the incomparable luxury of the artist. It rests altogether 
with himself not to break with his values, not to "give away" 
his importances. Not to be disconnected, for the tradition of 
behaviour, he has but to feel that he is not; by his lightest touch 
the whole chain of relation and responsibility is reconstituted. 
Thus if he is always doing he can scarce, by his own measure, 
ever have done. All of which means for him conduct with a 
vengeance, since it is conduct minutely and publicly attested. 
Our noted behaviour at large may show for ragged, because it 
perpetually escapes our control; we have again and again to 
consent to its appearing in undress that is in no state to brook 
criticism. But on all the ground to which the pretension of per- 
formance by a series of exquisite laws may apply there reigns 
one sovereign truth which decrees that, as art is nothing if 
not exemplary, care nothing if not active, finish nothing if not 
consistent, the proved error is the base apologetic deed, the 
helpless regret is the barren commentary, and "connexions" 
are employable for finer purposes than mere gaping contrition.